Electrified by the “Electric”
By Grace Booth '12, Contributing Writer
So begins “The Electric Version” in a conversation on the implications of existence as discussed by two dolls in the hands of a notorious cyber-criminal in the back of a truck, which brings her to prison in the year 2016. This is a play about soul. Or more specifically, the imminent extinction of soul. Or even more specifically, it is a play about the question of exactly how it may be possible to preserve soul in an increasingly technologically driven world. Undisputedly (and for good reason) it is a common theme, yet Diandra Partridge ’11 has written a probing, new play on the subject. She sets it in a hypocritical not-so-distant future society, which penalizes the wasting of time as it spawns a new kind of human whose lack of humor and love of schedule lead to an inherent loss of perspective on the very purpose of time and existence.

The lone representative of this ‘new race’ is Selena Nuthatch, whose chilly, Brechtian portrayal by Michelle Lukiman ’11 conveys the tense link between the prison, euphemistically called a “Forced Confinement Exercise in Coerced Learning and Growth” where Act I takes place, and the unseen authorities of this temporally totalitarian regime. Selena is in fact one of the enforcers, but the occasional lapses of her institutionalized mask and her failure to effectively control her charges — four rebellious female inmates — suggest the existence of a higher power, one that is all more frightening in its lack of a face.

The four inmates, Harley Quinn, Susan Smalls, Stacey Ponder and Pamela Means a.k.a Blizzk3gstand (pronounced “Blizz-kegstand” for those not fluently versed in web-lingo pronunciation), provide the live soul of the play. The plot’s emotional drive centers around Harley (played by Kyle Boatwright ’09), a lover of books and freedom of speech in an age that considers both outdated. The other three detainees, who have been hauled in for such crimes as wasting excessive time on “The Game,” becoming the object of cult adoration and speaking her mind on internet web video, act as example of combatants-of-the-system in their own ways.

The play contains an abundance of characteristic (though clever) science-fiction concepts — memory-erasing machines, internet policing as a means of censorship and futuristic porn shops where one plugs into a machine to experience one’s most obscene fantasies (“You’d be surprised what people will do when they don’t have to remember it”), yet Partridge and director Brooke Bishop ’10 have managed to write and stage a reality in which the implications of these ominous toys hit their metaphorical meanings dead-on. The memory-erasing machine, actually present onstage as a barber’s chair with a blue-lit overhead dome, serves as a simultaneously destructive and creative force. It obliterates the memories that define an individual, yet gives Harley the opportunity to shed all past ties in order to re-create herself to serve her cause as, arguably, the sassiest martyr to grace the Amherst stage in many years.

Boatwright and Lukiman do not give the only noteworthy performances — “The Electric Version” is well-cast, especially given the darkly comedic tone of the dialogue. Lexa Gluck (Smith College) presents a highly charismatic Ms. Ponder; Elizabeth Carbone ’12 skillfully embodies the usually timid, occasionally manic web nerd, Susan Smalls; and the hilarious Reilly Horan ’13 as Blizzk3gstand steals multiple moments with her sarcastic interjections. Also worth noting is the visual design (set and costumes by Bishop, with lights by Will Mateo ’11 in his debut show), which creates an alternately whimsical and menacing atmosphere — an appropriate tone to a comedy on a current, extremely powerful non-human force.

The play contains a few ambiguities — unsurprising given its newness — worth mentioning as points for further development. One would be the phenomenon of an entirely female world without recognition or explanation of the fact — a fascinating choice, but one that might gain resonance with deeper exploration. This particular production addresses the gender imbalance by toying with the sexual questions that rise from the situation (for example, the extent of the relationship between Harley and Stacey is ambiguous, especially on the part of Harley, who seems to harbor attraction for her cohort), yet the existence of men is mentioned in the script, meaning that it is a specific choice to portray a purely female cast of characters.

The final moment of the play, too, is somewhat confusing. Harley remains alone onstage, having just voluntarily erased her memories. She speaks directly to the audience, which is not out of context — she does the same at the culmination of Act I, yet this time she refers specifically to the medium of the play — life as a play — the acknowledgement of which feels as though it steps entirely out of the world that Partridge has written. While there is nothing specifically wrong with this ending for any play actually, the possibilities raised leave a powerful impression. It begins with a bang; it deserves to end with a shiver.

Despite trifling critique, “The Electric Version” is a dynamic example of the unique power of theatre in the liberal arts education — it entertains, it provokes (Bishop staged the audience as the law-abiding citizens of this faceless, time-obsessed world) and it challenges us to step outside ourselves to consider ourselves — have we lost perspective? How has the Internet shaped our lives? This question seems particularly vital to this college generation, who has matured in synchronicity with the maturation of the online world. We rather take it for granted. To its credit, the play does not push a message; instead it raises questions as to the ultimate effect of the Internet. In the years to come, will it destroy our souls or transform them? And if transformation is the way, what will we be like?

Issue 17, Submitted 2011-03-02 01:02:24