Manbites Dog Theater’s all-star presentation of The New Electric Ballroom, a 2008 tragicomedy by Dublin-born Irish playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh puts sad and fronwy face on the loneliness and sexual frustration of three middle-aged spinster sisters sharing a cramped cottage in a small rural fishing village on the Irish coast. By day, they toil — and gossip — at the local cannery; by night, the two older sisters (Marcia Edmundson as Breda and Lenore Field as Clara) ruefully reminisce about What Could Have Been one magical evening long ago, when they were giddy teenaged girls — at the peak of their physical beauty — drawing hot, hot, hot come-hither looks from New Electric Ballroom headliner Roller Doyle.
But bad Breda — that greedy, oversexed slut — messed up Clara’s chance for a low-rent rendezvous with Doyle and sowed a seed of bitterness between them that has grown into a mighty oak. Hope — which 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson called “that bright thing with feathers” — has long since flown the coop for Breda and Clara. But there still might be a glimmer of that elusive quality for their youngest sister, Ada (Katja Hill), who has not given up her dreams of meeting Mr. Right.
In fact, Ada has caught the eye of Patsy (Derrick Ivey), a painfully shy local fishmonger who cannot summon the courage to ask her out, so time after time he appears on her doorstep unbidden to drop off stringer after stringer of fish. Clara and Breda notice Patsy’s awkward attempts to ask Ada out, and they decide to give the bashful boy a helluva a nudge in the right direction — with hilarious results.
Marcia Edmundson and Lenore Field are terrific as big sister Breda — who has a bit of a mean streak — and middle sister Clara, whose well of bitterness towards Breda threatens to overflow. Night after night, Field and Edmundson probe the past, tearing the scabs off old wounds, describing the trainwrecks of their previous romantic relationships, and expressing their overall disappointment with a life that’s always shoving the fuzzy end of the stick their way. Thus, The New Electric Ballroom transforms their suffering into a delightful dark comedy in which every step forward is followed by two steps back.
Manbites Dog artistic director and Duke Theater Studies faculty member Jeff Storer also elicits outstanding performances from Katja Hill as the increasingly uncomfortable Ada and Derrick Ivey as her tangle-tongued beau Patsy, who cannot even follow through and ask her out when Clara and Breda have done their best to serve as matchmakers for the wary couple. (Patsy and Ada circle each other like a pair of wounded beats — which, in a way, they are.)
Scenic and costume designer Derrick Ivey has also done a bangup job with the simple but evocative sets and costumes. All in all, the talented cast and crew of The New Electric Ballroom make this 85-minute show, performed without intermission, a night to remember.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 27th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awards the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-long-ago-night-in-ireland-in-the-new-electric-ballroom/Content?oid=3345135 and Feb. 20th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-new-electric-ballroom/Event?oid=3108714; Feb. 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/02/25/2707227/intense-staging-undercuts-emotional.html; Feb. 24th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6045; and Feb. 23rd Cary, NC Boom! Magazine review by Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori: http://www.boomnc.com/boom-bits-reviews-books-movies-music-misc/irish-play-poetic-the-new-electric-ballroom-presented-by-manbites-dog-theater/.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM at 8:15 p.m. Feb. 28-March 2, 8:15 p.m. March 6-8, and 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. March 9 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $17 Friday-Sunday, except $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door).
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.org/tickets/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://vimeo.com/59201434.
The New Electric Ballroom (background): http://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/Book/669/The-New-Electric-Ballroom.html (Nick Hern Books) and http://www.druid.ie/productions/the-new-electric-ballroom-by-enda-walsh (Druid Theatre Company of Galway, Ireland).
Playwright Enda Walsh: http://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/enda-walsh/ (Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency), http://www.irelandliterature.com/author-database/author-holder/show/176 ( Ireland Literature Exchange), http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsW/walsh-enda.html (Doollee.com bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enda_Walsh (Wikipedia).
Director Jeff Storer: http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people?Gurl=&Uil=1723&subpage=profile (Duke Theater Studies bio).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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