Theater review

Intense staging undercuts emotional pull of ‘Electric Ballroom’

CorrespondentFebruary 25, 2013 

  • Details

    What: “The New Electric Ballroom,” by Enda Walsh

    Where: Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham

    When: 8:15 p.m. Feb. 28-Mar. 2 and Mar. 6-9; 2:15 p.m. Mar. 9

    Tickets: $12-$17

    Contact: 919-682-3343;

Loneliness and isolation can be as debilitating as disease. A single incident can alter life’s course forever. Blossoming love can be withered by harsh realities.

These are the underlying themes of Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom,” his 2008 play about three forlorn sisters in a remote fishing village. Manbites Dog’s production proffers four veteran Triangle actors in an intense staging that emphasizes surreal elements over underlying emotions.

Sisters Breda, Clara and Ada live a hermetic existence, their daily lives filled with the constant reminder of the night Breda and Clara went to a new nightspot, hoping to connect with a popular rock singer. They each naively hoped he’d take them away from their dreary fate, but the singer’s callowness crushed their dreams, souring them to further relationships.

They’ve turned their hurt into an ongoing ritual, taking turns repeating the events of that night, arguing over any missed details. They’ve also pulled younger sister Ada into the bizarre ceremony to teach her its lessons about the perils of love. Ada’s resignation to a loveless life changes when tentative feelings emerge for shy, simpleminded fisherman Patsy, whose own troubled past casts a pall over the possibilities.

Director Jeff Storer focuses on the characters’ bizarre behavior and strange, poetic speech to shape the piece into a macabre horror story. Within this concept, Marcia Edmundson’s Breda is a bitter, crazed shell and Lenore Field’s Clara is a darkly comic whacko, constantly taunting and accusing each other. They are at their best in frightening descriptions of their reactions to that destiny-changing evening. In their worn, bedraggled clothing and sloppy, exaggerated make-up, they often seem right out of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Katja Hill’s Ada is numbly submissive until Derrick Ivey’s Patsy goes from awkward nervousness to frenzied fantasizing about their future together.

Derrick Ivey’s set of foreboding, prison-like walls of metal bars, along with Chuck Catotti’s eerie, shadow-drenched lighting, faithfully serve Storer’s concept. Storer keeps the tension chilly and tight in this 80-minute one-act, but a more realistic approach to these admittedly eccentric characters would allow for stronger emotional connections to such recognizable broken spirits.

Still, the unity of the concept and the commitment of these fine actors make for an engaging theatrical experience.


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