Update: The company has announced that they are temporarily shuttering due to safety precautions around the COVID-19 outbreak.
By: Sam Ward
At: Pride Film and Plays at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway St. Tickets: 773-857-0222 or PrideFilmsAndPlays.com; $25-$30. Runs through: Temporarily closed because of COVID-19
Performing another artist's confessional show sounds a bit "dodgy" as the Brits would say. Add in lots of audience participation and you've got an even trickier proposition.
Both of these potential performance hurdles are built into Pride Films and Plays' American premiere of Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist. The one-man show ( with help from select audience members ) won quite a few accolades for bisexual playwright/performer Sam Ward when he debuted it at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Contained within the show are Ward's graphic descriptions and thoughts on five sexual encounters he had arranged with men online via Craigslist. This was before the website dropped all personal ads in 2018 so it wouldn't run afoul of strict Trump administration legislation passed supposedly to curb sex trafficking.
Yet Ward also contrasts all the sexual "Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Sam" details with ponderings ( and audience participation set pieces ) on the nature of much deeper emotional relationships. Ward even raids psychologists Arthur and Elaine Aron's famed "36 Questions" on falling in love to probe deeper.
There's also lots of time for direct audience interaction. Folks are invited to share thoughts, stories and the names of apps or websites for online hookups.
Since so much of the show depends on the makeup of different audiences, no one performance is exactly the same. The post-opening show I saw garnered a few laughs based upon audience members who were asked to wear name badges to indicate that they were game to join in.
But there's also the sense that Five Encounters… has been diluted in its hop across the pond in director Jeremey Ohringer's just-okay production. One wishes that American actor Erik Sorensen took more emotional possession of Ward's text to make it come off as if these experiences and revelations were truly his own.
There are also moments you feel that Ohringer and Sorensen could have worked to finesse more laughs out of the text via inflections and wry delivery. At the show I saw, things felt fairly unsteady.
Admittedly, this was at a performance after most Chicago-area theaters of more than 250 seats were shut down out of concern for the global coronavirus outbreak. Any nervousness in Sorensen's portrayal could have extended beyond the requirements of creating a commanding storytelling stage presence.
Five Encounters… can be an interesting show that contrasts callow physical sexuality with deeper relationship bonds. But it all depends on how much the performer and his audiences are willing to bring it to the stage.