by Lynn on October 24, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Isolation, fantasy, and skewered memory are explored in a lot of plays, but there is something unique when the play is written by an Irish writer as provocative and bold as Enda Walsh. His play THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM is given it’s Canadian premiere by the equally provocative and bold company MacKenzieRo. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin is here to tell us how provocative and bold.

Hello Lynn. What makes Enda Walsh’s plays so provocative?

His plays deal with people who are not only marginalized but on the edge of going over the edge. There is always a sense of a simmer that could erupt at any moment. His characters don’t start off seeming dangerous, but they tend to end up that way. That’s what makes his characters and plays so gripping. That and their dazzling facility with language.

The Toronto theatre company that is Enda Walsh’s biggest champion, is the equally scrappy and bold MacKenzieRo. Because of the company’s relationship with Walsh, and that their mandate explores the shared heritage between Canada and Ireland, MacKenzieRo is the first company outside of Ireland to be given the rights to THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM.

Ok, that’s the background, what’s the story of THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM?

It’s the story of three sisters who live in a remote Irish fishing village. They don’t seem to have left their house for years because of something in their past. They keep reliving their dark memory of their younger days when they each were dazzled by a singer at the New Electric Ballroom. They each believed that there would be a torid romance with the guy and he would be their one true love. Until they each see him making out with someone else. They each had the same experience; each was crushed; and after that they have each stayed in the house harranging each other and reliving the memory.

There is also a hapless fisherman who keeps trying to visit them with his own inability to function other than on a bare level. He has dreams of ending up with the youngest sister. It all seems so dark and it is as well as very funny because of the way it’s done.

How is it done?

It begins with an explosion of words coming from the oldest sister, Breda, her back to us as she rants her story at breakneck speed while the youngest sister, Ada stands by prompting her. Over the course of the story, each sister will tell the same story with slight variations in detail but not as frantic as the first telling. The sisters will put on their makeup for their big date, one will wear her special dress, and it will all end in tears and shock.

When the awkward fisherman arrives, he too talks in a torrent of words, wildly colourful and hilarious. He is trying to win the sisters over to admit him, and he usually fails, until they do let him in. The dynamic does change when it looks like one of the sisters will be able to leave with the fisherman, until reality sets in, and life for all of them returns to how it’s always been.

The production is gripping.

With a story that seems so dark, is the production depressing?

No and that’s interesting. The plays of Enda Walsh are so challenging both for the actors and the audience. These characters chose their own Company. They function in that house. They tend to things and don’t live in squalor. They chose to relive that story again and again.

This cast is first rate with: Sarah Dodd, Rosemary Dunsmore and Cathy Murphy as the sisters and Chrisopher Stanton as the fisherman. They drive that dialogue at breakneck speed and we have to keep up. And we do.

Director Autumn Smith never wavers in making her accomplished cast charge on to the end. There are moments when the drive subsides creating moments that are achingly moving. It’s like a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And the whole thing is done so well it’s energizing and not depressing.

Who would you recommend this to?

To all those people who have been going to all the other challenging productions that have been playing in town. The play and production is food for thought with lots to chew on.

THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until Oct. 24