Although billed as a one-man show, Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is not a monologue. Instead, it may be more accurate to frame it as a relationship between the audience and Sam Ward, our narrator. The show – which has a philosophical bent, weaving Sam’s personal experiences with more general musings about intimacy – has the overarching aim to explore whether genuine intimacy can be manufactured over the course of an hour.
To achieve this, Sam focuses on the work of Drs Arthur and Elaine Aron: the pioneering psychologists have studied the ways that people can consciously strengthen their interpersonal relationships, including “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” (simply put, asking and answering questions about yourselves), and staring into your partner’s eyes for 2 minutes, uninterrupted. Throughout the hour, Sam plays off these ideas with the help of the audience; however, although there are undoubtedly meaningful scenes, they run the risk of being overshadowed by other seemingly unnecessary moments of audience involvement for involvement’s sake.
It is Sam’s gift for storytelling that really carries the show; in the first of his five experiences, he talks us through his first sexual encounter with a man: starting with the Craigslist advert he responded to and ending with his walk back to the station. He does so in a remarkably detached manner, which is surprisingly refreshing – although these situations are deeply personal, by removing all but the most cursory of emotional insights, we can focus instead on the way that intimacy between strangers unfolds, and the consequences it holds for both parties.
The openness that Sam displays throughout the play is another keystone of its charm. Upfront, he tells the audience that they can switch seats at any time, calls them by name, and encourages them to ask him questions at regular intervals – which range from the profound (‘are you okay?’, after one particularly uncomfortable scene) to the humorous (‘how quickly can you sign up for Craigslist?’).
Sam states that his original aim with Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist was to explore male sexuality and its (incorrectly) perceived rigidity, but he hopes it’s grown into more than that. This much is certainly true; a great many compelling themes surrounding intimacy and attachment are touched upon throughout the show. However, its eclectic nature is also its hinderance – with such a powerful narrator at the helm, it seems a shame to waste such precious time on tangents.