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Pleasure Machine – Online via Colt Coeur, New York

Writer: Diane Exavier, Phaedra Michelle Scott, and May Treuhaft-Ali

Director: Tara Elliott

Reviewer: Jamie Rosler

Told against the backdrop of our current state of humanity, with a rich, well layered soundscape, Pleasure Machine explores one artist’s attempt to sell without selling out. Is it possible to survive within a flawed system without being inherently complicit?

H (Starr Busby) is an activist and audio artist with a Patreon account and a reluctant Twitter handle. Their goal is to facilitate and foster care (of self and others), with a focus on the queer and African-American communities. We get to know H’s work through snippets of sessions they hold with their highest-paying Patreon patrons. We are given access to their internal monologue, most notably in those moments when it does not match the external expression thereof. We meet their sister, Val (Portia), and niece, Jojo (Amara J. Brady), over emergency phone calls and pieces of dinner conversation recorded for their ambient sound (according to H, every time Val says she doesn’t like being recorded).

Kane (Adam Harrington) first shows up in a one-on-one session with H. He is a patron and employs a definition of that word that implies more access to and control of the artist than seems appropriate. It’s an especially unnerving moment given the differences between them in the social hierarchy that is white supremacy. The discomfort is stark when juxtaposed against a session with Zina (Jasmin Walker), whom H introduces as a well-known feminist dominatrix.

Over the course of the first few episodes, we learn a little bit about H’s family history and the effect it’s had on their niece’s mental health. We find out that Kane is an executive for a corporate tech entity called Librate and wants very much to woo H into partnering with them. Something in the promotional material for Pleasure Machine refers to Zina and Kane as a “corporate couple”, though their connection to each other (outside of both being H’s patrons) remains unknown at the time of publication.

Avoiding any other potential spoilers, it is enough to deem this production an inspired exploration of American capitalism and its racist, classist foundations. Close your eyes and enter the beautifully built world of sounds (Uptown Works, Daniela Hart, Bailey Trierweiler, Noel Nichols) and music (Starr Busby, Hyperion Drive) that shape this story. Journey through the light and dark sides of existing as a personality on social media. Ponder whether care can be commodified and how that affects individual relationships. What would you do differently, and who are you to judge?

Concludes on January 15 | Access available via Colt Coeur.  

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The American team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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