A Red Orchid Theatre presents
THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
What happens to a coming-of-age story if the rite of passage takes a detour? What becomes of a young girl’s awakening if she forces herself back to sleep? A Red Orchid Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM. In a small fishing village in Ireland, three women reenact a pivotal life moment. The outcome of an adolescent dance party has the ladies reliving the anticipation and the actuality of a young man’s affections. Detailed romantic and sensual descriptions are recited with rehearsed practicality. Moment by moment transports these older gals back in time to a dreamy age of innocence. ‘Keeping safe inside’, their daily routine is a return to the past. The pattern of activity continues with unwelcomed alternate variations and a male intruder. THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM is Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” meets Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” with underlying snippets of Judy Bloom’s “Forever”.
Playwright Enda Walsh (no relation) has penned a tale of lyrical intrigue. From beginning to end, it’s a game to piece the puzzle together to see the big picture. Repeated dialogue and ritualism provides hints and questions to the true meaning. Under the direction of Robin Witt, the talented cast dress and undress in faded pageantry. Kate Buddeke (Breda) starts the pastime with her intense version of the womb passage. Buddeke emphasizes the harshness of life and isolation. Later, Buddeke’s reverberates a sexual encounter like a phone sex operator. Playing daft smartly, Laurie Larson (Clara) interjects nonsensical lines like ‘I have a gift for making coffeecake like Jesus has a gift for sacrifice’ with perfect comedic timing. Are these ladies lunatic shut-ins shunned by the village? Are they dead and living out a hellish existence of reruns? Are they just love-starved spinsters acting out a Danielle Steel novel? These undetermined factors lead into the assessment of Kirsten Fitzgerald’s (Ada) character. Whether they are crazy, dead or spinsters, Fitzgerald is the odd one out. With pauses of vacancy and rage, Fitzgerald remains detached and primarily in control of the scenario. Fitzgerald is haunting as a prisoner or victim of the delusional state. Is she as stuck as the sisters? Can she leave or not? Begging to expand his role into the fantastical story, Guy Van Swearingen (Patsy) sings his way in with a memorable “Wondrous Place.”
Walsh wrote a poignant un-love story. If love changes everything, then un-love keeps it all the same. THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM is a place where wallflowers continue a never-ending dance. But where is that place in their heads, hell, or home? I’m intrigued enough to revisit.
A man with his dance card filled for life, James describes it with ‘greatly told tale.’