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A new work by playwright Enda Walsh is the topic of conversation at Manbites Dog Theater Company. The New Electric Ballroom is the winner of the 2008 Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival. In it, Walsh presents three sisters who live in a small seaside town in Scotland, where for too many years they have been stuck.
The eldest sister, Breda (Marcia Edmundson), and her next eldest, Clara (Lenore Field), have for too long a time regaled their youngest sibling, Ada (Katja Hill), with the tale of what befell them when they went, as young teens, to the new Electric Ballroom to see the latest craze in music, the Roller Royale. The Roller, whose music is a backdrop to the play, apparently has told both young ladies he will see them after the show. Breda is the first to appear, and when Clara arrives moments later, she finds Breda in his arms. Moments after Clara flees, the Roller excuses himself from Breda and goes outside to meet yet another young thing, who unknowingly betrays Breda as she has done Clara.
This small but powerful slice of time has settled permanently into the psyche of the three sisters, who spend far too many days reliving the event, retelling of the betrayal, and allowing it to stick them in time. The three have spent decades now living together, but have been unable to move past this moment; their lives are now sealed together in a house in this small town, and their only interruption to this hell is the arrival, once daily, of Patsy (Derrick Ivey), the local “mad fishmonger” who brings them their daily ration of fish. Patsy is the only person they see from outside the house, but his arrival is no solace. Patsy is as mad as these three sisters have become. Poor Ada, who was still small when the betrayal occurred, has become the vessel by which the other sisters might escape; they still hope that she may find love and leave this hellhole. But the possibility seems to be fading.
Director Jeff Storer presents this play on a stage that is small and cramped, like the streets of the village. The small house is surrounded not by walls but by fences. The resulting cage has an exit, but no one uses it but Patsy. Derrick Ivey wears two hats in this production: in addition to performing, the stage is of his design. His character runs in and out, presenting the only real movement in the play, as these sisters continue to hammer each other with this terrible crime.
The poetic language of the play, which is the hammer used to cudgel these sisters, paints the town, the ballroom, and the seascape as each sister describes her past. There are nuances of theft, as Clara and Breda describe what has been taken from them. There is a wall beyond which these sisters cannot pass. It has frozen them in time and cannot even allow them to move from story time to teatime. Tea and cake sit ready for the sisters, who never seem ready for them.
Manbites’ latest presentation is a microcosm of lost possibilities. It is comic, but it is also black; the possibility of resolution fades as the show progresses. The players all yearn for a “wondrous place,” where they have found love and acceptance and peace, but the time together has stolen the option. All that remains is each other, and the continued predicament of being stuck.
The New Electric Ballroom continues its run through Saturday, March 9. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.