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When We Went Electronic

Two young women workers in a NYC branch of American Apparel carry on in this surrealistic satire with songs. The terrific performers elevate the material. 

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Tiffany Iris and Drita Kabashi in a scene from “When We Went Electronic” (Photo credit: Skye Morse-Hodgson)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

A used condom pulled out of a young woman’s hair proves to have been the cause of her discomfort; “My hair hurts.” Later on, after a suggestive examination it is discovered that her vagina cryptically contains ashes. These are some of the John Waters-type bits in playwright Caitlin Saylor Stephens’ surrealistic satire of contemporary life, When We Went Electronic. There are also songs. It takes place in a New York City abandoned branch of American Apparel and it’s both excruciating and vigorously performed, given a busy production and thankfully short. The absurdist style of the piece has shades of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco and Jean Genet crossed with a reality television sensibility.

Ms. Stephens has a substantial pedigree with her previous works having appeared at prestigious institutions and winning awards. The piffle on display here does exhibit craft, discipline and structure but to little effect as it sputters out after 70-minutes. The title is an Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange attempt at an invented slang. It refers to getting high and is tiresomely repeated countless times. “Look book” is another catchphrase that gets run into the ground. The dialogue is nonsensical, vulgar, often coarse and is supposed to be funny.

Kibitzing and arguing in Valley girl-speak are senior sales associate Bethany and her co-worker Brittany who are in their early 20’s, earn “almost minimum wage” and fear a phone call from “corporate.” A ringing ancient black rotary phone incites horror. “Is it a bomb?” There is much discussion about what happened last evening during a drug-fueled night of partying. It is possible that Brittany was sexually assaulted by a man. There are flashbacks of these events with a lot of graphic physical simulations, one involving the arm of a mannequin.

Drita Kabashi and Tiffany Iris in a scene from “When We Went Electronic” (Photo credit: Skye Morse-Hodgson)

Interspersed throughout are the musical compositions of composer Sarah Frances Cagianese and lyricist Stephens some of which tunefully recall early Blondie and have some connection to the actions. The two performers heroically demonstrate their full commitment to the antics with their intensely exaggerated yet soulful characterizations.

Employing a heightened Drew Barrymore-style drawl and bobbling about like an Absolutely Fabulous heroine is the sensational Drita Kabashi. Wearing a garish fake fur getup, Ms. Kabashi’s brilliance transcends the material with her superior acting and singing talents.

Tiffany Iris’ sing-song Baby Doll voice and captivating presence perfectly realizes Brittany. Ms. Iris is fierce yet vulnerable as she vividly switches from the gabby present to the hazy and frightening violent scenario. Stating that she’s from Colorado and came to New York to be a model and actress has a rare poignant tone due to Iris’ tender delivery.

Drita Kabashi and Tiffany Iris in a scene from “When We Went Electronic” (Photo credit: Skye Morse-Hodgson)

Director Meghan Finn’s energized staging and utilization of the technical elements fulfils the author’s bleakly cartoonish vision. The accurate looking ominous retail space is grandly executed by scenic designer Skye. Strobes, blackouts and eerie dimness are the tools lighting designer Sarah Johnston uses to achieve a creepy atmosphere. Sound designer Anthony Dean forcefully modulates the music and effects.  The flamboyant outfits of costume designer Sharné van Ryneveld have a gleefully twisted sense.

Embedded in the deadpan wildness of When We Went Electronic are worthy takes on themes such as sexual violence, feminism and consumerism but they’re diminished by the discordant tone.

When We Went Electronic (through November 11, 2018)

The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.thetanknyc.org

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (561 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

5 Comments on When We Went Electronic

  1. sorry dude, the moment you said “shrill” you completely undermined yourself and the review.

  2. Your use of the word “shrill” drips with sexism, and undermines your entire critique. To quite Anne Carson from her essay, “The Gender of Sound”: “Putting a door in the female mouth has been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to the present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death. Consider this description by one of her biographers of the sound of Gertrude Stein: ‘Gertrude was hearty. She used to roar with laughter, out loud. She had a laugh like a beefsteak. She loved beef.’ “

    • Darryl Reilly Darryl Reilly // November 8, 2018 at 4:30 pm // Reply

      Shrill was one of several critical adjectives floating around in my mind to sum up my opinion. Sexism was not intended and I regret it has been interpreted as such. As Gertrude Stein would not approve, I will consult with the editor-in-chief about an effective substitute.

  3. 1. I understand the definition of “shrill” perfectly. Thank you for taking the time to look it up on your own, in order to refresh your own memory.
    2. Our collective attention to shrill is rooted in its overuse with regards to describing the sound of women. As Carson points out, because patriarchal culture is not equipped to critique women artists and writers, it resorts to dissecting their very person-hood – how they sound (more often how they look). Further, To reduce a woman’s sound to a single descriptor, as in Stein’s case, “beefsteak”, or in Stephens’s case, “shrill”, only illuminates the limited capability of the critic, and not the artist/writer.

  4. I’m sorry you somehow weren’t able to understand that “When We Went Electronic” did not mean “when they got high,” it meant “when they got raped.” I thought the staging made that pretty clear, but it’s really too bad you missed that central understanding of the play.

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