Tom: Horror, hectic, metropolis, banks, stock markets, streams of money flow, testosterone flows, streams, the entire building, two thousand one room apartments, all belong to the same chain, the facades are the same all over the world…
Electronic City by Falk Richter (translated from German by Daniel Brunet).
The fear of the post-war years was that the lives of men may be continuously monitored by a vengeful Big Brother; the fear now is that the Big Brother is not a human. It is a ruthless epidemic that has forced cities across the world into a maze of standardization. Falk Richter’s Electronic City (2002), directed by Amitesh Grover, which will be performed later next week, is a scathing indictment of the forever connected but inconsonant world.
Miles apart: Connected by a maze of electronic signals
Richter is the author of many well-known contemporary plays, most notably Gott ist ein DJ (1998). Electronic City looks at the turbulence, the alienation and forlornness that brews just beneath the surface of electronic signals, that threatens to explode in the face of man and erode the false security and false sense of well-being generated by laptops and email accounts, iPods and privilege cards, porno booths and roving cameras, VIP lounges and connecting flights. “When I wrote the play in 2002, it was under the influence of the G8 summit in Genoa and the political confusion caused by the aftermath of 9/11,” says Richter over e-mail. Adding: “I tried to deal with political and economical issues in an entertaining and theatrical way.”
Grover, a National School of Drama (NSD) alumnus says that the play uses the technique of double image interpretation, where the actors engage with the images produced by a live camera on the stage. For these performances, Grover plans to use two cameras that will project images on to an L-shaped stage. Richter, on his part wants the director to exercise full creative liberty with the play.
The lead male character, Tom, is distraught because he fails to establish himself within a specific time and space. He keeps frantically pacing up and down a hotel corridor, which may be anywhere in the world: Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo, Berlin, he does not know. He is waiting for an elevator so that he can catch his flight to god-knows-where for a meeting. He wonders if he possesses a personality, or does he share one with three million people—just like his cellphone ringtone. Amit Saxena, also an NSD alumnus, who plays the part of Tom, says he had to bring in an element of physicality to convey the character’s sense of anguish over his spatial and temporal disorientation. “His character is almost suspended in time, suffering a temporary phase of amnesia. He is constantly undergoing a lot of introspection,” he says.
On the other hand, Tom’s wife, Joy, lives a life of whirlwind ambiguity, of odd jobs across the world, never anywhere more than three days. At present, she is stuck behind the counter of a fast-food outlet at some airport, desperately fending off a bunch of irate businessmen as her infrared scanner refuses to work. All this while she narrates (or is she dreaming?) her story in front of a live television camera and dreams of George Clooney. Padma Damodaran, who plays Joy, interprets her character in a less sinister manner. “Her character questions where you can place joy and happiness in an alienated world,” she says.
Grover says that he might take the play to other cities depending on audience response. In addition to the two characters, a chorus performs a dance and a cappella song sequence. “They represent the ghostly voices of the primitive society uprooted by the modern city,” he says. According to him, in the increasingly mobile world of BPOs and time shifts, it’s impossible to deny the allegorical significance of the play’s theme.
Electronic City will be performed on 29 and 30 September at 7pm at Max Mueller Bhawan, New Delhi. Passes can be collected from the venue in advance.