Bad Company

"The flames of hell are licking at our feet."

This declaration is just a sample of the biting dialogue in ElectroPuss, the latest Trista Baldwin-penned masterwork brought to life onstage. Set in the fictional town of SkyFire, USA, the play presents a sinister take on corporate culture, where the upper echelons of hell masquerade as office break rooms. The result is a precarious mix of campy humor and serious social commentary.

The play follows hapless heroine Muffy Jonesmith, a recent graduate of Zap High School in SkyFire, as she assumes employment with ElectricLand Electric Company -- employer of 98 percent of her town's populace.

The play was written in 1997, and ASU alum Baldwin had no idea it would prove so portentous. Now a timely caricature of workers' mislaid faith in an omnipresent corporate entity, ElectroPuss may ring familiar for many a playgoer.

"The Enron scandal has been great for me," laughs Baldwin via telephone from New York City, where she now resides.

In part, ElectroPuss draws on Baldwin's experiences as an office temp in corporate America. In her play, Baldwin -- an attendant of countless company pep rallies and office talent shows -- chronicles the attempts of corporations to control employee behavior.

"But it's not just about corporations," she says. "It's about culture in general -- the implications of having so much of our thoughts about patriotism, marriage, romance, etc., come from sources outside ourselves."

A monthlong playwriting residency in El Paso, Texas, provided Baldwin with additional inspiration. Across the border in Mexico, all-night community fairs cemented some of the characters that she had been molding in her mind. There, her muses began to emerge: men selling electric shocks to margarita-drinking fairgoers, high-heeled women in bathing suits with banners across their chests advertising the beer they were selling. This was the SkyFire of Baldwin's imagination.

Once an actor who dabbled in fiction writing, Baldwin brought her talents to their logical conclusion in 1994 when she began writing plays. Two years after graduating with a master's degree in playwriting, Baldwin has seen her plays produced in Los Angeles, New York and Australia.

ElectroPuss, however, may be divergent from Baldwin's other works.

"I took some risks," she says. "I'm sort of playing with genres a little bit. There's something about the cartoonish and campy qualities of the play that are conducive to pain. Being able to laugh at the most horrible things has always been of interest to me."

Indeed, Baldwin is trying to throw a halogen lamp into the murky waters where acquiescence festers. Consequently, with her new play, everything is going to sizzle.

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Meghan Gaynor