Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Huis Clos

December 05, 2009

Ruth McCabe, Rosaleen Linehan, and Catherine Walsh
Photo: Tom Wilkinson/Druid Theater

The only regret I have about seeing Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom, which is on stage at the Freud Theater this weekend as part of the UCLA Live International Theater Festival, is that I couldn’t see it sooner. And I don’t just mean earlier in the run, but that it would have been even more fascinating just weeks ago running in repertory with Druid Theater Ireland’s other production for the Festival, Walsh’s The Walworth Farce. The two plays are mirror images of one another in almost every way. Both concern a trio of family members, in Ballroom's case three sisters, trapped in a small domestic scene where they re-enact family myths and dramas until a different gender outsider arrives upsetting the balance. The struggle then becomes how and if the family system will incorporate the intruder or allow him or her to become a catalyst for escape. Both plays are filled with dense and rapid dialog often packaged in extended storytelling monologues by turns hysterically funny and oddly disturbing. And like The Walworth Farce, The New Electric Ballroom is an excellent play, this production being one of the best things I've seen this year.

Where Ballroom ups the ante on its predecessor is in its compactness and subtlety. At just under an hour and a half, Walsh raises many of the same questions with a far less didactic tone. The ambiguities about the relationships between these three supremely enmeshed sisters, two who still harbor daily-revived memories of shared affections for the same young man many years ago, aren't as completely spelled out. When the outsider in The Walworth Farce arrives at the door, she clearly represents the real world the audience knows exists outside of the unfolding family drama. In Ballroom, the local fishmonger makes repeated visits with the tide, but it's quickly apparent that he is already sucked into the family's story with his own rapid fire tales of wit and anxiety long before he's brought into the house and efforts are made to assign him another role in the family drama. The fish monger, Patsy, is played with real excitement by Mikel Murfi, the same man who directed the earlier run of The Walworth Farce for Druid. He's great, but no more or less so than the three other actors, Rosaleen Linehan, Ruth McCabe, and Catherine Walsh who were fascinating to watch.

Ballroom is more directly about love and its power and failings in allowing people to work their way into and out of certain family dynamics. There's still a sense of nihilistic foreboding here, and while no one escapes through the promise of new love, there is decidedly more comfort portrayed in the daily routine that traps these three women together in their single room waiting for tea to go with their few dry biscuits and hot pink frosted sponge cake. Of course, depending how you look at it, this world may be even less pleasant than that of the men in Walworth. In The New Electric Ballroom the cuts will mame you; though, never providing the final mortal blow. Enda Walsh's play, and the Druid Theater's production, are first rate and must be seen. There are two more performances this weekend.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter