No Strings (Attached): the comic confessions of a romance-aholic
by Drew Rowsome- photos by Jeremy Mimnagh
No Strings (Attached) proves that there is a little romance-aholic in all of us. Though the audience is attending a "Romance-aholic Anonymous" meeting and letting latecomer "Jimmy" testify, there are moments when we can't help but be swept away by romance. We have listened to Jimmy's sad (but very funny) tale, and, as embodied by the irresistible Sunny Drake (X) we are skeptical of his motives and emotional stability, but in thrall to his charm and vulnerability. The lush orchestral score by Njo Kong Kie swells and Fred and Ginger begin to dance across a screen. Then Jimmy appears above in silhouette, clutching the baseball cap of his much-discussed ex. It is a breathtakingly beautiful moment.
Earlier Drake has riffed on his sexual exploits and the difficulty of dating in the modern world. He has dropped one-liners about the difference between sex and love and spun comedy out of comparing the patriarchy to the hierarchy of the terminally liberal. There is some very fun and insightful stuff in there. But all comedy comes from pain and when Drake delves into the specifics of a trans man dating, No Strings (Attached) is at its best. A section, structured as a bit of stand-up but transforming into theatre, explicating the difference between being "fascinating" and desirable, drew gasps of recognition, regardless of where one sits on the gender or sexuality continuum.
Unfortunately the truly remarkable elements never quite coalesce into a whole. Some of the metaphors are connected and resolved, some are cheated into unsatisfactory conclusions. As much as I love puppets, the last minute unexplained appearance of one was charming but redundant, especially following a disconnected foray into childhood trauma. No Strings (Attached) veers wildly across a lot of terrain held together only by Drake's increasingly frantic efforts.
A lyrical and sharply written section has Jimmy talking to a projection of Drake, debating where Jimmy has gone wrong. Jimmy decides it comes down to his need to try to save his partners but that such heavy layering on of romance is actually a form of control. It is a powerful insight. An insight that is undercut by stamping of feet and cries of "Attention! Attention! Attention!" so that the audience wonders if we have wandered into a self-indulgence-aholics meeting.
None of those quibbles take away from the sheer beauty of No Strings (Attached) which is constantly visually fascinating (and yes I'm aware of that echo). The production team - Michelle Ramsay, Joe Pagnan and Jade Lee Hoy - create wonder after wonder, all of it timed with split-second precision. And Drake is a joy to watch as he bounds across the stage, mimes every conceivable form of sexual expression, and projects such conspiratorial enthusiasm that No Strings (Attached) rockets along with seductive finesse. He moves from clown to dancer to mime to comedian to tragic grace, never letting the audience out of his grip.
There is a joke that left us all wishing we could transcend our romance-aholic state and achieve what Jimmy pretends to have achieved:
My boyfriend telling me the sexy details of getting it on with another dude. Big time boner.
No Strings (Attached) arouses intermittent boners, a fairly consistent chubby, frequent wetness, but only teases a climax. But that is more than enough for an evening that promises no strings attached.