Higher Tech

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The Sex With Robots Festival

Presented by Caps Lock Theatre

November 5–10, 2013

The Secret Theatre
4402 23rd St, Long Island City, NY

We’re already the progeny of humanity and technology, inseparable from our peripheral tablet memory and satellite-guidance visions and virtual video adventures and the voices in our earbuds, and The Sex With Robots Festival, an evening of eight short plays and a musical prologue, reintroduces us to the heritage of machinery that advanced our imagination in the first place and the human feelings that drive it all.

Existence itself begins in sexuality and every human invention and entertainment is porn before it’s art; festival originators Danny Bowes and Natalie Zutter (with producers Mariah MacCarthy and Leta Tremblay) are conscious of all this unashamed necessity and transcendent possibility. Like the best robot fiction from Isaac Asimov to Greg Pak, these plays about sex with robots are really about love among humans, in all its miracles and malfunctions and missed signals.

The evening starts and ends on affirmations of the organic, bookended by an acoustic song-cycle by Nat Cassidy at the beginning and a passionate, tender bedside discussion (etc.) at the finish.

Cassidy’s Sparks Will Fly, like several of the episodes, draws on the rustic future of mid-20th-century cybernetic chic, in a tale of a lonely man who engineers suburban bliss the only way it can really never go wrong, by literally building a family. Sung in a catalogue of cocktail-croon voices to the original locomotive techno of blues and folk, it’s a small masterwork of the human mind making of others what it will.

Simon Says (by Richard Lovejoy & Eric John Meyer, who also star) is a tense carnivalesque tableau of an abusive prig dominating his mechanical-manservant, a macabrely humorous natural extreme of the 99-to-1 equation.

Sasha by Mac Rogers is a devastating tragedy of ill manners, cracking open the schematics of human emotional damage the way Rogers never fails to. A divorced man, played by Stephen Heskett with morose Don Draper mastery, is shopping for the simulated wife who will really give him what he wants, and the truth of what that is says much about the voluntary torture of bad marriages. Catherine LeFrere as the deceptively subordinate Stepford-wife and Daryl Lathon as the mod-Mephistopheles salesman are also fascinating, with cracklingly somber direction in an epic of menacing restraint by Pete Boisvert.

Girlfriend Repair by Micheline Auger constructs a hilarious technical metaphor for males deciphering the mechanics of female desire, while Just Right by MacCarthy is a terrifyingly truthful portrait of domestic abuse between a woman and her robotically re-created ex-girlfriend, pushing each other’s buttons in a nightmarish loop.

Taisetsu Na Hito by Leah Nanako Winkler reboots this as farce, with a soured straight married couple rediscovering their fire for each other in the cold reflection of their programmed housekeeper — until being in danger of actually getting to know her disenchants them all over again.

Zutter’s A Real Boy, with its data-crunching, jealousy-generating android gigolo tallying his patron’s flesh-and-blood partners, is a perceptive parody of the scores we keep on lovers, while Make Your Bed in Hell by J. Julian Christopher, about a sheltered geek’s literal technophilia, is a concept underdeveloped yet remarkably performed, especially by Natasha Yannacañedo conveying a lifetime of hurt and exasperation in a few minutes of conflict with a disappointing loved one.

My Fantasy Sex Robot Came in the Mail Today by Bowes belies its literal title with layers of delicate feeling and honest eros. Bowes is touching as an isolated but reflective fanboy, and Jennifer Harder is an elemental presence as his transitory lover, her motions writing a kinetic treatise on the expectations programmed onto women in her character’s assumption of roles and poses for his pleasure and her sad uncertainty when he makes the most baffling of demands, that she be herself.

The breakdown of our devotions in Sex With Robots’ ensemble of disillusioned intimates and the sanction of solitude in our embrace of technology are the tragedies at the heart of this evening — but in such sad understanding we repair connections and unlock the formula to know ourselves.

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