Try to imagine living your memories over and over, day after day- in particular a memory that changed your life entirely. In “The New Electric Ballroom”, written by Enda Walsh, now playing in the very intimate A Red Orchid Theatre located in Old Town, we get a close to 90 minute glimpse at the lives of three sisters in a small fishing village in Ireland. The older two, Breda ( the powerful Kate Buddeke) and Clara ( deftly handled by Laurie Larson) on a particular night went to a club called The Electric Ballroom , and at that spot on that night, their lives were changed forever. Their younger sister, Ada ( charmingly portrayed by Kirsten Fitzgerald) relives their night of pain and agony with them as the two elder sisters remain in their home, only Ada going to work at the Cannery. Each night, they relive this night with speeches and changing clothes and adding make-up as they keep the memory alive and strong while at the same time show their younger sister what it was to be used and abused.
Directed by Robin Witt on a very small stage with a set designed by Jessica Kuehnau, that appears to be a shack near the water with only the furniture that is needed. From the very start, we know that these women are not as normal as they appear to be and then we meet Patsy ( a wonderful spirited job by Guy Van Swearingen), the local fish-monger who delivers buckets of fish to them on a regular basis along with the news of the others in town. He is a loner, a man who reeks of the smell of fish and he also has some narratives to relay on to these ladies. As the story goes on: we begin with Clara and her meeting the singer who changed her life. She is followed by Breda, who evidently made Clara’s first “date” her last and then later on, Breda convinces Patsy that he needs to clean up and offers him to Ada. This little loner turns out to have a little “romance” in his soul and it is unclear if this is a part of the ritual ,but while wearing the suit that had been worn by the singer who hurt the girls, standing atop a table, he brings a microphone out of the ceiling and sings a romantic tune to his Ada, and then leaves. His old work clothes now take the spot on the rack where this fancy suit had been and the girls dress Ada in some of their costumes, as now she also has “love lost” . This appeared to be a new twist to the regular evening ritual.
Walsh has given us women of deep emotion and loss. It is hard to believe a man can get this deep into the emotions and feelings that these women experienced, but I am sure he did some great research. Everyone needs to have someone in their life, even if only once, later to become a memory. Some choose to keep their bitterness and pain alive with these memories ( as do these sisters), others to move on, but in reality, aren’t we all a little “alone” and aren’t our memories important to us? At one point it appears that Walsh will allow these characters to escape from this cycle, but as it ends, we see that it will not and that now Ada can take a larger role.
“Ballroom” will continue at A Red Orchid located at 1531 N. Wells Street through March 6th with performances as follows:
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets run $25-$30 and are available by calling 312-943-8722 or online at www.aredorchidtheatre.org
There are meters on Wells and since the play is less than 90 minutes, it shouldn’t be difficult. Public transportation is near with the North Avenue bus stopping less than a block away and of course, Old Town has plenty of places to grab a bite- all types .