You’ve forgotten your passwords and mixed up your PIN numbers. You can’t access your voice mail; the GPS has led you astray. You’re in an airport, losing your mind. Falk Richter Knows your pain. The renowned German playwright wrote a whole script about it, in fact— though the main characters in his Electronic City are admittedly an extreme case. Tom and Joy are so fully, hypnotically, and unhappily controlled by devices, mass media, and the general speed of modern life that, though they seek each other throughout the play, their finding each other on the same small stage is far from guaranteed.
The daring New Stage Theatre Company—which brought its downtown vibe uptown in 2017—will present their interpretation of Richter’s fever dream over five weeks starting April 12th. Filled with disembodied, Siri-like voices; scrolling trolling; vapid, TV newsstyle soundbites; and humor, New Stage’s Electronic City emphasizes the stark emotional contrast between human need and robotic response.
“The play is a plea for meaningful human interaction,” says New Stage founder and artistic director Ildiko Nemeth, who directs the piece. “Even if we aren’t as harried by data, networking, and ever-beeping media messaging as the characters Tom and Joy, we do experience disorientation; a loss of who we are; a toll on our relationships while racing to be ‘authentic, effective, flexible and productive’ in the system.” Nemeth liked the way Richter’s script captured that sense of racing to keep up and of being controlled by external pressures: “The material asks questions about the shaping forces of our society, including whether it is possible to balance navigating this world with personal fulfillment.”
The current run marks the second time the company has staged the kinetic play, though the first time, three years ago, New Stage had not yet acquired its own dedicated venue, the New Stage Performance Space, in upper Manhattan. In 2016 and now, Nemeth made dramaturgical adjustments to the text to reflect how the tech world has changed since 2003, when Richter put it out into the world. The Siri voice is an addition, for example, “representing a new type of ‘virtual goddess’ ruling the system,” says Nemeth.
References to social media platforms and a rolling news cycle “create a cacophony of information surrounding us, impacting our communications.” Nemeth’s creative hand ensures a living, breathing performance wholly resonant in 2019. In addition to Nemeth, the creative team includes: Federico Restrepo (lighting design); Brandon Lee Olson (costume design); Eric Marciano and Hao Bai (projection design); Chris Sharp (artwork); Fabiyan Pembelski and Maria Camila Daza (production assistants). Cast: Beth Dodye Bass*, Tatyana Kot, Bjorn Bolinder*, Maciej Bartoszewski, Brandon Lee Olson, Jeanne Lauren Smith, Rikin Shah, Chris Tanner.
(* These actors are appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association)
Innovative Theatre Awards 2019:
Outstanding Innovative Design
Outstanding Performance Art Production