BWW Review: MY ELECTRIC LIFE Illuminates Theater of the Seventh Sister
Lancaster's Theater of the Seventh Sister recently produced local playwright Paul Hood's MY ELECTRIC LIFE, a study of Internet addiction and treatment for it, with the show directed by Brian Phillips. Previously, the play had been performed in a staged reading at Gamut Theater in Harrisburg.
MY ELECTRIC LIFE is the story of Ari (Lily Eder), Manny (Anthony Golden, Jr.) and William (David Sands) who don't know each other at the beginning of the play, but will know each other very well by the time they've been placed in group addiction therapy with their therapist (Britt Trofe). Each can't live without the Internet, but each has wildly different reasons for falling into its spell, from online dating when real-life dating becomes too much effort, to trying to find reasons for a friend's suicide. The dangers of isolation, the dangers of meeting strangers online, the dangers of using the web to diagnose your illness - all are thrown in your face, making you challenge your own on-line habits as you watch their struggles.
What becomes clear as the three talk - first in monologues, then in group sessions - is that each is lonely, and each has had both some personal crisis and some emptiness for which the Internet fills the void. But it fills that void without human contact, without interpersonal relationships. Their therapist is as much a tutor in dealing with others as she is a doctor trying to help them through their struggle with a seductive and even more isolating addiction.
Eder is intriguing as Ari, who's had a life before the Internet but is looking for a better date, with less contact. Sands is highly relatable to anyone who's ever looked up a medical condition on the web, although his William takes matters further than many hypochondriacs. But it's Golden's Manny that you can't stop watching. Golden, an actor from Florida, was recently in the area at Gamut, in RED VELVET, and was one of the great things about that production; here, he's equally compelling, and we must hope to see him again in this area.
Hood's works have been performed in the area and elsewhere, and have been published, before. Most of his area productions have been around Harrisburg, so it's nice to see his work being performed on the other side of the river as well. MY ELECTRIC LIFE is insightful, if not altogether perfect -- the monologues could perhaps be a bit tighter, and the therapist's role is played almost too neutrally; it seems as if she should have some more identifiable life or issues when her clients aren't present, to contrast with their stories, rather than the minimal amount she has. Her lack of name contributes, most likely deliberately, to the unobtrusiveness, but therapists are obtrusive; they poke and prod with words and ideas. She should be less of a total cipher, and more of the binary cipher that contrasts and combines with the "1" of each of her patients to create new communication in the binary code used by the computers with which all the characters interact. Slightly more conflict or tension outside the characters' minds would spark this more, and the therapist is the ideal one to do this.
Still, it's a highly original work, and one that tackles a subject greatly overlooked in current drama. One's reminded of the Off-Broadway hit, BILL W AND DR. BOB, in which tackling addiction to alcohol in themselves and others became a joint effort of therapist and patient - in their case, to the point of being under the same roof at times. It's hard work to write, and equally hard to perform, a show in which the characters must lay themselves bare to attack their issues. Hood has made great strides in doing this in MY ELECTRIC LIFE, though laying the therapist a bit more emotionally bare would bring more vigor here. But this is a discovery that can only be found through performance, not through mere silent reading, and thus it's important to see a work like this being performed onstage while still essentially fresh from the printer.
Kudos to Theater of the Seventh Sister and new artistic director Cynthia Charles for their commitment to new works (as also with this weekend's Spoken Word festival) and to current writers. Most of Lancaster's theatre scene is musical, so it's good to see Seventh Sister up and in regular production. We're looking forward to their next season. For information, check seventhsister.com.