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The New Electric Ballroom – Druid Ireland – Theater Review




picture - The New Electric BallroomTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published December 6, 2009


The New Electric Ballroom

now playing at UCLA’s Freud Theater

through December 6


You’ve got to love a playwright who says that “words get in the way sometimes” and then insists on writing plays that use words – what often seems like millions of words – in a myriad of intricate ways, as if getting the right words is the point of his writing or, perhaps, to prove time and time again that, as natural talkers, we insist on inventing the words that protect us from our pure and natural language.  The writer is Enda Walsh, perhaps the most unrestrainedly original of the crop of brilliant Irish dramatists who have come our way in such startling profusion in recent years. And, being Irish, he has that particular gift the Irish have claimed as their own since the minute they learned how much fun it is to sit in a pub and spin a yarn with one’s local pub mates. Gab, they call it, and, out of this gift – the source of Irish dramatic literature – has flowed torrents of the most lyrical manifestations of rational and irrational thought.


Let us place Walsh in the irrational category (or, at least, in the category of reaching the rational through the irrational). Druid Ireland has brought us in just a couple of years (and brought to Los Angeles, as part of UCLA’s International series of plays, within weeks of each other) two of Walsh’s plays: The Walworth Farce and its companion piece, The New Electric Ballroom. Difficult and frustrating and thorny and irascible, they are also startlingly original. And, even as one leaves the theater wanting to shake them off from one’s consciousness, they cling and, with a vise-like grip, hold you in thrall with their wild and crazy ways of giving expression to the inexpressible.


picture - The New Electric BallroomJust as the father and his two sons in The Walworth Farce recreate the same play over and over again to avoid the truth their little play keeps hidden from them, so two of the three sisters in The New Electric Ballroom reinvent a memorable moment of the past to keep from moving forward. They not only trap themselves in the world they create through the language they create, but they keep their younger sister imprisoned within the confines of their imagination. A prince charming does come along, in the person of a fishmonger, to perhaps rescue this younger sister from what seems to be a tragic fate, but he, of course, is caught in a web of his own making. Finally, the sisters cannot hear the way in which the fishmonger is connected to their story and he cannot know, from hearing them, that he has a connection. And while it is suggested that the world is willing to accommodate their needs, they are too intrinsically tied to the fantasies created by their words to let that real world in.


Oddly enough, Walsh is right. Words do get in the way sometimes. And it is no secret that, under the playwright’s direction, what one remembers is not the words but the ways in which the actors move or sit or speak into corners of rooms or wave their hands around and reveal the fluttering truths locked inside them that their words keep repressing. They are all bound by their emotional twistedness as well as by their fabrications of language. And what one sees is even more frightening than what one hears. Words! One may never think of them in the same way after sitting through a play by Enda Walsh.


picture - The New Electric BallroomThe performances are superb. Rosaleen Linehan’s Breda, the strongest of the three sisters, her gait a bit crooked as if the weight of words are crippling her, is commanding even as her character literally shrinks before us. Ruth McCabe as Clara, the oldest sister, pinned down in a chair that seems too big for her small body, makes of her desire for a piece of sponge cake the only truly tangible thing in the play. And, while Catherine Walsh as Ada, the youngest sister, towers over her sisters, her body seems to be torn into two different women, one wanting to make herself small and drift away, the other unfortunately tied to the earth beneath her feet. But it is Mikel Murfi – who directed The Walworth Farce and understands perfectly the body language of Walsh’s people – as Patsy, the fishmonger, who makes the most indelible impression: he has grown mad with loneliness but even his fingers keep thrashing away as if they are fending off any incursion into the very loneliness he says he wants refuge from.


The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom are no longer with us; they were with us too briefly. But Enda Walsh will not go away. The images of his plays will continue to haunt us. And, being an Irishman, he is not apt to lose his gift for language. No, Enda Walsh will not go away any more than Beckett or O’Casey, to name just two of his fellow Irishmen, will ever go away.


harveyperr @


[Editor’s note: The final Los Angeles performance of The New Electric Ballroom is tonight at 7:00 p.m.]


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