The pursuit of perfection is never straightforward, even when its hardwired to be. Human-robot relations are under the lens in the welcome revival of Malaprop Theatre’s Love+, winner of last year’s Spirit of the Dublin Fringe Award. This cyber drama about a woman and her robot partner makes for an enlightening investigation into love and technology.
A hard-working professional (Maeve O’Mahony) is held in the arms of her robotic companion (Breffni Holahan), discussing that early model of sentient technology: the marionette Pinocchio. This seemingly sets up a question: will our android also be rewarded for proving its human-like credentials?
Devised by the cast with writer Dylan Coburn Gray and director Claire O’Reilly this piece often has the feel of an excellent screwball rom-com, grounded by the restrained and believable O’Mahony, and departing with the wide-smiling Holahan, who delivers an adoring, fast-talking creature of controlled hyperbole and polite tactlessness. The machine vacuums the human’s apartment (a nice mix of furnishings and circuitry in Molly O’Cathain’s set design), routinely tells her she’s beautiful, and unpeels her oranges. It’s too perfect.
From wooed to irritated, O’Mahony’s woman begins to rebel against her partner’s schedules and textbook definitions. In questioning not only why we long but why we retreat, the piece begins to feel philosophical. It’s not the first time we’ve been given poetry from the company of O’Reilly, Coburn Gray, O’Mahony and producer Carla Rogers; their spoken word play Boys and Girls (2013) exposed Dublin’s nightclub culture as a ritualistic site of exhilarating, and sometimes lamentable, seduction.
So what can technology say about human nature? In one boldly hilarious but revealing scene, we’re treated to a live feed with a bawdy bot inside an internet chatroom. “Are you real?” types the operator. The machine responds: “I’m as real as you want me to be”.
Technology as a canvas to project human fantasy is hardly a recent revelation; it’s been the case since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at least. But rarely has the discovery been tinged with such tender affection. Houlihan’s cyborg, despite its oddities, is strikingly sincere! Imported texts such as the Three Laws of Robotics and a conversation between two chatbots designed at Cornell University help us to recognise what are earnest attempts by machines to assist humanity.
That makes Malaprop’s production a moving portrayal of unwavering fidelity. It also cleverly speaks to the complexities of the contemporary world, the pain of separating simulation from the real deal.
Love+ is on until 25th June 2016. Click here for more information.