By Crystal Wood
I enjoyed MackenzieRo’s production of The New Electric Ballroom. At least, I think I did.
Overall, the play was a positive theatre experience, but it was one that I had to think about for a few hours afterward. I realized that I considered it an excellent production with a moderate script, and unfortunately for me, script is the thing I tend to notice most.
The New Electric Ballroom is a story about three sisters living in an Irish fishing town, who have secluded themselves from the world for years and are starting to exhibit the behavioural tics that you would expect from such isolation. Ada (Cathy Murphy) is the youngest sister, and the only one who thinks there might be more for her outside of the house. It becomes Breda (Rosemary Dunsmore) and Clara’s (Sarah Dodd) job to convince her otherwise. The fourth character is the awkward Patsy (Christopher Stanton), who represents the outside world and is therefore the object of the women’s mistrust.
Enda Walsh wriote the script, and has been gaining attention as one of Ireland’s hottest playwrights. Personally, the play was a little too uneven for my liking. While it was beautifully moving in some spots, it was also ramblingly incoherent in others. I did like how it crosses the line between reality and fantasy, but had problems with parts of the play’s structure.
For example, there are two long monologues early in the play where Breda and Clara each tell their own versions of an incident that happened at a dance several years ago. Coming so early in the script before we know who these people are, it was 100% “laying pipe” on Walsh’s part, and I think he proves elsewhere in the script that he’s a better writer than that. (In contrast, when Patsy delivers a monologue near the end, we care so much more because we have invested something in the character.) Also, without spoiling the plot, the women’s personal histories don’t really seem to sufficiently explain their neuroses, so the characters apparently are crazy simply because the writer said so.
So, I can’t say that The New Electric Ballroom has enticed me to seek out more of Walsh’s work. But it has enticed me to seek out more of MackenzieRo’s work. (I should have started with the positive, shouldn’t I?) For a company that has been around only for a few short years, they put on a show with production values that could rival any mainstage.
The acting was uniformly strong from all four performers. I think I was most impressed by Cathy Murphy’s Ada, if only because Murphy was new to me as a (fairly devoted) theatergoer. The set and sound were both very slick, and I think director Autumn Smith did a fabulous job with the material she was given. (Case in point: considering how annoyed I was by the sister’s early monologues, I still enjoyed the visual treatment given to them.) I’ll be intrigued to see what this company does next, given their mandate to produce Irish theatre in Toronto.
The New Electric Ballroom is a worthwhile production to see, both aesthetically and for the fine performances. But it’s exactly these strengths that make the story’s shortfalls seem all the more frustrating.
– Playing until October 24, at Tarragon Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Avenue
– Showtimes: Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
– Tickets are $26, available by calling 416-531-1827 or at tickets.tarragontheatre.com
Photo of (L-R): Sarah Dodd, Rosemary Dunsmore, and Cathy Murphy. Photographer: Matthew Marigold