The New Electric Ballroom at A Red Orchid Theatre | Theater review
This strangely compelling and affecting 2008 piece by Enda Walsh is largely about the power of ritual and words—to hurt us, to protect us or to keep us in stasis.
“Terrible lull in the conversation,” says Clara (Larson) at several points in Irish dramatist Walsh’s strangely compelling, nonlinear 2008 one-act. “The sort of lull that can get you worrying about other things.” In Clara’s daily life in the house she shares with her sisters Breda (Buddeke) and Ada (Fitzgerald), the air is filled with monotonous monologues, stories told by rote to fend off those thoughts of other things.
Petulant, childlike Clara and the tougher, craggier Breda are shut-ins on the far side of 50, haunted by the memory of a youthful, fateful encounter at the New Electric and the piercing gossip that followed, driving them forever indoors. Now they repeatedly re-enact the events of that night in ritualized acts of storytelling, dolling each other up in garish makeup and dresses that have become costumes. Ada, their much younger sister, spends soul-numbing days as a bookkeeper at the local cannery—“I turn fish into numbers,” she says—but at home, she serves as her siblings’ director, prompter and rapt audience. Their only visitor, a lonely fishmonger named Patsy (VanSwearingen), gets a shot at saving Ada from her sisters’ fate.
A companion piece to Walsh’s The Walworth Farce, which was performed here by Ireland’s Druid Theatre Company in 2009, The New Electric Ballroom is largely about the power of ritual and words—to hurt us, to protect us or to keep us in stasis. And the words are beautifully handled by Witt’s outstanding ensemble. Buddeke and Larson mournfully convey lives that ended years ago even as they still go on, while the heartbreaking Fitzgerald is as enthralling in her minutely detailed reactions to the others’ speeches as when Ada speaks.