The final performance of THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM, at Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, was exactly what I find myself wishing every theatre going experience to be: cathartic for audience and performers alike, elegantly directed, simply designed, and beautifully executed. To call out any one performer for excellence would do a disservice both to the rest of the cast as well as to the ensemble nature of the piece.
Lights go down and up in the intimate space, and we discover Clara (Nancy Robinette) in an easy chair remarking on her shrinking hands and feet, while Breda (Sybil Lines) faces the upstage wall ranting about the nature of people to talk, at the urging of their younger sister Ada (Jennifer Mendenhall). We soon discover these three live out their days much in this way, every day just the same, recounting the story of the day both older sisters lost faith in love and the world. The story serves as a warning to Ada not to trust in men or the world.
Enter Patsy (Liam Craig), the lonely fish monger who comes by daily to deliver fish and gossip from the outside, and longs to be invited in. Warnings of past sadness and reliance on routine are thrown aside for the chance of release, that Patsy and Ada might be able to find love together.
To go to the theatre is to experience a moment that at once is unique and repeated. The actors must be able to every night experience the moments as though for the first time in front of an audience, and we go in the eternal hope of seeing something that night that will never be seen again and has never been seen before. The characters in BALLROOM experience that same hope, and yet the knowledge that it won’t change, that today will be like yesterday.
The Studio Theatre’s spaces always force an intimacy of actor and audience, with the entire room being smaller than most proscenium stages. THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM embraces the intimacy and pulls its audience along for a short (90 minute) ride that fills an entire lifetime into this one day.
THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM
by Enda Walsh
directed by Matt Torney
April 13 – May 8, 2011
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005