Have online personal ads become passé? There was a time when nearly everyone seemed to be trying for luck on dating Web sites. Yet now it appears the trend has begun to nosedive. People are steadily logging off these sites, no longer convinced that the Internet is the best way to meet Mr. or Ms. Right. Even Match.com seems to recognize that online dating is waning in popularity and is trying to entice singles back with its new slogan, "It's O.K. to look." The characters in stirring are wary of the online dating stigma, but they can't help logging on to look for love anyway. On the surface, their taste in music (Mogwai, Devendra Banhart), the clothes they wear (vintage Converse high-top sneakers and thrift store jackets, ballerina flats, and leggings), and their place of residence (Brooklyn's Williamsburg) advertise that they are too cool for personal ads. Nevertheless, these lonely hipsters are registered on Match, Jdate, and Nerve.com, risking potential humiliation for a chance to meet that special someone.
Shalimar Productions's performance of stirring memorably captures the search for connection through modes of technology that keep people separated from one another. The play originally enjoyed sold-out runs at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival and the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and is now being restaged at the InterArt Annex for a limited time.
The seven lovelorn Brooklynites are James and Sasha, whose long-distance relationship thrived on titillating e-mails but soured once they moved in together; Sasha's ex-boyfriend Ryan, who generates sparks with Daniel based on their mutual love for the same books and bands; Daniel's friend Joy, who lovingly derides her neighborhood on her widely read blog; and romantic Laura and darkly charming Trip, who quickly fall in love without having ever met.
The script, by Charles Forbes and Shoshona Currier (also Shalimar Productions's artistic director), adeptly captures the online dating world, specifically the carefully cultivated personas men and woman create to woo each other in cyberspace. The play is based on and heavily influenced by Currier's research on actual online personal ads, which is why the characters' ads are so hilarious in the way they mirror real-life dating profiles.
All of the hipsters are well versed in the rules of writing profiles, such as "start with a hook" and "supply a narrative." The play is most exuberant in its recounting of these rules and the difficulty of cramming one's sprawling personality into neat categorizations like "favorite sex scene" or "five items you can't live without."
The affable and talented cast members play well off of one another, whether harmonizing slightly off-key to a Smiths song, chanting their personal ads in overlapping dialogue, or lustfully circling and even chasing each other around the stage in an entertaining visual demonstration of the online mating dance, where they woo one another by e-mail and instant messenging.
All give wonderfully real performances, but Jen Taher's sardonic yet vulnerable Joy is a standout, especially when skewering the wannabe artistic pretensions of Jersey City denizens or talking about meeting a cute guy in a bar and desperately trying to reconnect with him via his MySpace page. Rachel Plotkin infuses Laura with a lovable goofiness, and the character's dreamy notions of romance are both funny and surprising.
Kim Gainer's Sasha shows great dramatic range as she struggles with her excitement and guilt over meeting someone new on the Web as her boyfriend withdraws into his own world. And while Matt Bridges is appealing as James, his recounting of the Pygmalion myth and musings on binary codes feel odd and out of place. You feel too acutely that the playwrights are using him as a mouthpiece to express their ideas about love and disconnection, causing James to seem less three-dimensional than the others.
The stage in which the characters interact off- and online is intentionally sparse, with props and sound used inventively to signify setting in terms of physical space and cyberspace. Desk chairs indicate that characters are communicating via laptop, while bar stools under Christmas lights show they are interacting face to face.
The characters giddily fall for each other online but fear meeting in the real world, worried that the illusion will be broken (as it often is). Some of them meet and some do not. Yet the play is not about what happens when two people finally see each other; instead it celebrates the basic human need to connect, to be cherished, to be understood. And no matter what future advances in communications technology occur, in the end we will always seek a beating heart over a blinking cursor.
Following three of the performances, there will be speed dating sessions for single theatergoers and cast members (two are for straight singles, the other for gay singles). So after watching the play's characters reflect on finding love in New York City, audience members will have the chance to do the same—but in person.