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November 22nd, 2009

The New Electric Ballroom

I didn't really know much about this before we went. An out-of-town friend was going with other friends, I find the St. Ann's Warehouse productions stimulating, I like Brooklyn. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have gone, and would have missed a lovely dinner and a play different from the Classic Theatre/Musical/Old-Fashioned well-made plays I usually go to.

So now I've had my Becket-meets-Synge-meets-Genet experience, and don't need to have another one for a while.

That said, The New Electric Ballroom was a solid and nicely-structured representative of the genre, with three remarkable actresses playing sisters, caught up in the pivotal experience of going to hear a rock star at the eponymous ballroom when the older ones were 16 and 18. The younger one (now in her 40s) is their audience and effectual slave, being the only one who ever leaves the house, but is slowly withering in the desert of a dead-end job in a small canning town, with no emotional life outside her sisters' stories and no prospect of one. The only other character is a middle-aged fishmonger who bursts into the house at intervals, compulsively delivering fish and gossip, for neither of which he is paid or thanked.

In short, it's a wee bit on the grim side.

In case this kind of thing is absolutely your cup of Barry's, I won't reveal the really rather cool climax and anti-climax (in the classical sense) that shapes the second half, but it doesn't spoil anything, I think, to remark that it doesn't relieve the general aura of "life sucks and then you die" that pervades the narrative. As you may have figured out, there's nobody who likes a good tragedy as well as I. But I do pretty much lack a taste for irony, and this is a deeply ironical play. I'm also not wild about the assumption that a woman can't possibly have a life if she doesn't have a man, but I suppose it could equally well be read as a cautionary tale for women who believe that, and it's written by a woman (Enda Walsh) so I will suspend judgment.

In any case,, Rosaleen Linehan, who plays the oldest sister, Breda, has played Beckett (no surprises there) and is a force of nature. The second sister, Ada, is played by Catherine Walsh, who has been in Dancing at Lughnasa--and done Beckett on the radio. She, too, was remarkable. The youngest sister, Ruth Mcabe, was in The Snapper, among other things, but wasn't quite up to the weight of the others (IMHO, anyway). Mikel Murfi, as the lone (and lonely) male Patsy, was wonderful, with a real range and vulnerability.


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