The New Electric Ballroom/by Enda Walsh/directed by John Perrin Flynn/Rogue Machine @ Theatre/Theater/extended through September 2
Ireland has been known to spawn many of the greatest poets: Beckett, Joyce, Yeats, Wilde to name but a few. Playwright Enda Walsh should be added to the list of Irish poets, those who make memorably lyrical the cobblestone streets, the hills, and the people who abide in Ireland. They are a sad lot, indeed, isolated from the rest of the world, destined to live alone. It's no wonder they tell tall tales and spend most of the time drinking and dreaming, for what else is there to do, especially when any hope of leaving is diM. Walsh's play The New Electric Ballroom, winner of the 2008 Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival, has the bold reality of a Pinter play mixed with a uniquely grande poetic vision, not unlike Martin McDonagh's black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane and is currently receiving a first-class production at Rogue Machine, extended through September 2.
Three sisters, Breda, Clara and Ada (Lisa Pelikan, Casey Kramer, Betsy Zajko) live trapped in a tiny cottage in a remote fishing village, playing out their daily existence by dreaming about a past that never changed and a future just as bleak. A fishmonger Patsy (Tim Cummings) stops by periodically to deliver fish and to spread the juiciest gossip about the townsfolk. Breda, and Clara - the slow one, are the older sisters, who, like clockwork, repeatedly recite verse and reenact an episode from their younger days when they were infatuated with an iconic singer at the Electric Ballroom. Clara got close to him backstage one night, Breda got even closer, much closer... only to find heartbreak when the next in line, a Doris Day type, took her place. The women enact the touching, flashy scene by changing clothes, smearing on face paint and moving to the strains of poorly recorded music on a cassette player. It's living out one's fantasy to excess, as an actress does on a stage. But there is hope for the actress; for the sisters, none. Breda and Clara are pitifully unloved, always have been and always will be. They are doomed to be old maids, baking cakes and cleaning up the cottage. There is, though, the tiniest bit of optimism for the younger pretty Ada, who is regarded with lust by Patsy. When the women coax him in, bathe him and dress him up as the iconic singer, he plays out his fantasy...what is his connection to their story and will he take Ada far away to live in bliss? You can imagine the outcome.
Under John Perrin Flynn's abundantly skilled direction, the three actresses and one actor have a field day playing out their dashed dreams within a meager existence. Pelikan, putting on a fiercely formidable face as Breda to mask her extreme sorrow, is remarkable; Kramer, with built-in limited mental imagery as Clara, is astounding as she reaches beyond herself to paint with broad strokes; Zajko, vulnerable and yearning as Ada wins our total sympathy; Cummings, as Patsy, is a small miracle, engaging the lot with his over-the-top stories of lunacy and velvety rich singing tones. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's set design of the dilapidated cottage works vibrantly in this tiny space. Dianne K. Graebner's drab costumes - except, of course, Patsy's sexy leather suit for the singer could hardly be drab - hit the mark.
The New Electric Ballroom is wonderfully theatrical, creating a kind of sensual experience of pain/pleasure one is unlikely to forget - ever.