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A play about the chaos of attraction
In 2012 the playwright Dipika Guha took part in a study at Yale to measure unconscious bias against women in the sciences. She was fascinated by the process. "I was around these people who were quantifying what, to me, feels unquantifiable," she recalls. "And who were, a lot of them, mechanistically minded. Their questions were about how things worked and how things fit together."
That act of trying to define what is inherently mysterious inspired Guha's play The Mechanics of Love, which is running through September 24 at Paradise Factory in a staging from To-By-For Productions.
"I think as artists, we're often not interested in the mechanism of how things fit together," she says. "We're more sort of drawn to the magic of not knowing, and the transcendence, and the mystery of things that are difficult to quantify and unpack, and suddenly the tension between those two different things made me feel like there was something exciting there."
Though Mechanics of Love isn't about unconscious bias, it is about something equally hard to parse: love (another topic of fascination to scientists). In the play, a married man falls for a ballerina with a steel spine (literally). Soon after, his wife falls for the ballerina and invites her to move in with them. Then the man's friend, a mechanic, falls in love with the ballerina, too.
As they say on social media: It's complicated. But to Guha, that's the joy of it: "There's a tension in the play between people who are trying to solve the problem of love mechanistically, like the way that they would fix a car, and this ever-present reminder of the irrational."
The play is also about love's permutations, including romance, self-esteem, platonic friendship, and familial bonds. All these connections — plus the couplings, uncouplings, and recouplings — race by in 90 minutes, to dizzying affect. That's the point.
"I think there's something about the time compression that is a little bit giddy and makes it feel absurd," Guha says. The point is that while characters are looking for "stability in this world of flux, it's just really impossible to hold onto." She then adds, "I often joke that over the course of a life, if this were stretched out, it would just look like anybody else's life."
But to circle back to that Yale study, it's not like gender bias is entirely absent from Guha's professional career. Female playwrights often struggle to get their work produced. "The [Yale] scientists had no idea how prevalent it was in theatre," Guha says. "I think they would have been shocked, to discover what our field is like in terms of gender bias. It did make me turn the lens back on and it made me more conscious of how it exists in theatre."
It matters, for instance, that The Mechanics of Love is being produced by To-By-For, which aims to mount female-driven stories created by women. In 2015 the play also received an honorable mention from The Kilroys, a group of theatre artists that releases an annual list of notable recent plays written by women. (Another one of Guha's plays, Art of Gaman, took the top spot on this year's list).
All this informs Guha's own writing and professional development. "I think what the Kilroys is doing is really valuable for this reason," she says. "This kind of advocacy is really important for us."
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for The Mechanics of Love. Go here to browse our current offers for theatre, dance, and concerts.
Photos by Joe Pickard. Top photo: Eric T. Miller and Sathya Sridharan.