When the OnComm finalists were announced last week I was slightly surprised that I had seen quite so many of the nominated shows – 35 out of the 50 or so listed to be precise. It seemed to me that I really should try and make up the deficit even if this did mean delving back into several archives to do so. Of course, some of the material is no longer in the public arena so it’s never going to be a complete job but still I decided to do catch up with what I could. After all, even some of the shows which were first streamed live had been captured on film – indeed my first choice fell into this category, a piece called Cupid’s Corner.
Strictly speaking this is a reading for charity rather than a full-blown performance; it first appeared last June for (I think) just a one-off when the idea of using Zoom for drama purposes was still in its infancy – just look what’s happened since. The play is by Parade Stone, a Brooklyn-based writer and the cast is made up of a number of young performers who throw themselves into proceedings with enthusiasm. Cupid’s Corner is the name of a franchise described as “the love child of McDonald’s and Tinder” where customers can order the partner of their dreams. They are, as is so often the way with these things, realistically programmable and adaptable robots which will do their owners bidding and as is also often the way with these things, events start to get out of control.
There’s a simple and all too human explanation for this because Sadie, the sister of Alex the company founder, has landed a job with the organisation and, fundamentally disagreeing with the underlying ethics (or rather the lack of them) sets out on a course of sabotage. This involves commandeering the talents of ex-customer Andrew who can reprogram the machines to make them as close to humans as possible thus undermining the basic premise of them being a detached and non-judgmental sex object. Meanwhile Sadie is exploring a human relationship with Doug, another customer, and getting into increasing conflict with Celia her boss and potential sister-in-law. We additionally see a subplot involving Serafina, also a customer, and her interaction with various “dates” purchased from the company.
Playing out rather like an episode of Black Mirror, the drama examines the need for humans to connect (that’s timely!) in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology. I didn’t really see the necessity for the subplot as it came across as something grafted on rather than an integral part of the main performance. There was probably enough in the main storyline to sustain interest and might have got the piece down to a more acceptable running time.
Watching people reading on Zoom for the best part of two hours can become a bit samey especially given the production choices made. Stage directions are all read out by a disembodied voice – that’s fair enough because it is advertised and produced as an online table read. But having the actions of characters read out while they remained immobile seemed over limiting of possibilities. Besides in some cases the actors do carry out the specified actions (e.g. grabbing a handy guitar when it is mentioned) which somewhat confuses the style. There is also the perennial problem with Zoom lag, meaning cues could be left hanging and the pace drop. To be fair though, as already indicated, this was early days of using this online platform for a purpose for which it was never intended. Since then, greater possibilities have been discovered and potential tapped so I may have felt differently had I been watching a live version seven months ago.
This was an interesting play which would transfer well to a live onstage situation and contains a young, committed ensemble cast who demonstrate potential. It’s inclusion as a finalist in the “Live Streamed” category of the OnComm awards is difficult for me to comment upon; watching it many months later in a recorded form isn’t really doing it full justice. However, I wish it well at February 21st’s award ceremony.