Today's technology has given us the ability to stay connected without communicating. And when the communication breaks down in our most valued relationships, the options aren't as simple as hitting the delete button and starting over.
The play Other Hands, which opened this weekend at Actors Guild of Lexington, manages to weave together a story that touches on how technology affects our lives and how we approach repairing a relationship when its mechanisms break down.
The play, by British playwright Laura Wade, centers on a romantic relationship between technology professionals in London in 2006. Steve (played by Eric Seale) is a freelance IT specialist who quits the corporate world and, when not working, is practically attached to his video game system. His partner, Hayley (Meaghan Sharrard), is a peppy management consultant who reorganizes struggling businesses. The dynamics of their relationship is one that many people might recognize.
"We all have friends who have that relationship that has been going on for a decade but doesn't seem to be going anywhere," Seale said.
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Steve and Hayley's relationship is tested when each is presented with unique encounters and unexpected health problems. With Steve, it's helping out-of-work Lydia (Kathryn Newquist) rid her failing computer of a virus. With Hayley, it's Greg (Spencer Daniel McGuire), a seasoned businessman who resists Hayley's presence at first but eventually looks forward to their professional encounters.
All the while, Steve and Hayley gradually lose the use of their hands because of their frequent use of technological devices. That problem takes both a physical and an emotional toll on a relationship that's already stalled.
Seale, who is Actors Guild's artistic director and this production's scenic designer, said he likes Other Hands because it integrates technology into a common theatrical conflict and makes something that's of the moment.
"Technology has played a large role in these characters' lives," he said. "The thing that stood out was this was a very interesting sort of modern story."
One of the more interesting acting challenges of the play for Seale and Sharrard is the way they must subtly and convincingly show the loss of function in their hands. That's harder than it sounds, Seale says.
"You have these two characters whose relationship is sort of crumbling apart, and as they actually try to do something about it, they use the ability to use their hands," Seale said. "It sounded really simple at first, ... but it's keeping it all on track and keeping it consistent that's the hardest part."
The play is directed by Marshall Manley, a frequent player with Actors Guild who is making his directorial debut. He said the play has complex characters and great dialogue, but he hopes the play successfully conveys the importance of communication in a way that's human and relatable.
"The natural tendency in theater is you really want to be very big," Manley said. "I really didn't want (the actors) to be characters as much as I wanted them to be any people you could meet and see and talk to. I didn't want it to be over the top. I just wanted it to be life itself."