While Christchurch, New Zealand, has spent the last week or so recovering from a major earthquake, the Earth doesn’t quite move for the characters in Caroline Lark’s EROS, playing now at the Forge Theatre in Christchurch’s Arts Centre. EROS is a play about polyamory, a quote-romantic-unquote arrangement by which groups of consenting adults knowingly enter into sexual relationships with multiple partners in a closed circle.
Lark’s play deals with a group of six people who are trying to determine whether or not they’ll be able to function within a polyamorous circle; there are the circle’s two founders, Ingrid (Ali Harper) and Jake (Toby Leach), the third member of their circle, Andrew (Matt Hudson), nanotechnologist Natalie (Laura Hill) and her dysfunctional married friends Julia and Reuben (Claire Dougan and Jon Pheloung, respectively). Initially, Jake is looking forward to an interview with Natalie, trying to determine her suitability for a position – pardon the pun – within his relationship with Ingrid and Andrew. Natalie drags her friends, whose marriage is failing, into a weekend away with the circle – to see if having sex with additional partners will be able to prop up their relationship.
In an extended playwright’s note, Lark explains her motivations for writing about the two major topics of her piece: poly and nanotech. Her fascination – and outsider status – in regards to both topics is revealed in the candid note; she has clearly done research on both topics, although once this note is read it’s hard not to suspect that her personal position on poly has colored the ultimate resolution of the play. While the poly aspect of the play is obviously central, Natalie’s position as a nanotechnologist never quite bridges the metaphor gap; it illuminates aspects of her character – her scientific and emotional myopia – but her profession never quite twists into seamless integration to feed the play’s major themes – the need for openness and compromise in healthy relationships.
One of the most interesting facets of Lark’s play is the constant struggle for power between people who are supposedly trying to form a meaningful relationship with one another. The relationships in the play are polar – Ingrid and Jake, Ingrid and Andrew, Julia and Reuben, etc. – rather than fluid, and traditional in their sexual relations and roles. It’s unfortunate that the central couple, Ingrid and Jake, seem to have entered into a poly situation more because of Ingrid’s insatiability and need for control rather than out of a true desire to engage in relationships with multiple partners. This undercuts the philosophical integrity of their stance, and for audiences with little to no direct experience with those who engage in this lifestyle it seems to re-enforce the stereotype of poly individuals as people who are looking for multiple physical relationships, rather than individuals who have found nurturing emotional stability in a group of more than two. Then again, polyamory is a complicated thing in practice; perhaps Lark’s presentation is a true representation of reality rather than a sanitized look at relationships with multiple partners.
This comedy of EROS is often biting, but Lark avoids most of the the obvious sexual cracks and instead wrings humor from lines about tectonic plate shifts (provoking uneasy laughter from the Christchurch crowd, members of which have been dealing with aftershocks from the quake for days at this point) and Reuben’s traumatized, East German history. Ingrid’s ruthless machinations are pulled out from under her in a surprise switch at he end of the play, and those who have championed poly through the rest of the play find that the gravitational pull of a polar relationship ultimately fulfills their sexual and emotional needs.
EROS offers a strong production with good pacing that keeps the play moving quickly along as it pursues a light investigation of poly; the themes never get too heavy and the characters never quite transcend their easy categories. While it’s doubtful that Lark’s creation will win over those who are on the fence about poly in their own lives, the play gives its audience an acceptably-sanitized-for-prime-time view of an esoteric practice that is gaining pop culture ground.
EROS is playing at the Forge at the Court (theforge.org.oz) in Christchurch, New Zealand, until September 25th.