Pasa Re­views

Fu­sion Theatre Com­pany’s The New Elec­tric Ball­room

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - The Fu­sion Theatre Com­pany presents “The New Elec­tric Ball­room” by Enda Walsh at the Lensic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (211 W. San Fran­cisco St.) at 7:30 p.m. on Sun­day, April 26. Tick­ets, $15 to $35, are avail­able by call­ing 505-988-1234 and vis­it­ing www.tic

Such a night

When the Fu­sion Theatre Com­pany ap­pears at the Lensic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Sun­day, April 26, it will of­fer a pro­duc­tion that Santa Fe’s the­ater­go­ers will prob­a­bly find them­selves think­ing about long into the com­ing week. Rather than wait for that per­for­mance, I de­cided to catch the play ear­lier in its run, at the com­pany’s home at the Cell Theatre in down­town Al­bu­querque, a small but com­fort­able space of about 50 seats, all of which were oc­cu­pied at the mati­nee on April 18.

The play is The New Elec­tric Ball­room, writ­ten in 2005 by Enda Walsh, a muchdec­o­rated Ir­ish play­wright who has achieved his great­est fame in this coun­try for au­thor­ing the book of the Tony Award-win­ning Broad­way mu­si­cal Once. Last Septem­ber, Fu­sion scored a solid suc­cess with its pro­duc­tion of John Pa­trick Shan­ley’s Out­side

Mullingar, a ro­man­tic com­edy set in a dow­nat-the-heels Ir­ish vil­lage. The New Elec­tric

Ball­room trans­ports us to a sim­i­lar lo­cale, in this case a fish­ing port on the Ir­ish coast and specif­i­cally into the com­bi­na­tion sit­ting room and kitchen of the mod­est home oc­cu­pied by three sis­ters. Clara and Breda are en­ter­ing their ad­vanced years, while the con­sid­er­ably younger Ada is perched at a point when the prospects for ro­mance are grow­ing ever less likely, their pos­si­bil­ity di­min­ished fur­ther by the weight of bit­ter­ness she shoul­ders.

Be­ing Ir­ish, th­ese women fill the si­lence with talk — or at least the two older ones do, while Ada more of­ten stands pout­ing or with­draws to es­cape the claus­tro­pho­bia. They re­count the same tales in the same glo­ri­ous words, and some­times the tales float from one char­ac­ter to an­other. Mostly they talk about the defin­ing in­ci­dent in their oth­er­wise joy­less lives, the sin­gle night long ago when they trav­eled to a dance at the New Elec­tric Ball­room to hear pop singer Roller Doyle, a re­gional Elvis Pres­ley type whose dress­ing-room door proved open to young ladies who might make them­selves avail­able for his (and their) plea­sure. Clara and Breda were both con­tenders for his fa­vor, and they have never re­ally moved on since that night, living out their lives in a re­lent­less rep­e­ti­tion of sib­ling ri­valry.

Into the fringe of their ex­is­tence in­trudes Patsy, who drops by sev­eral times each day to de­liver a crate of fish. The women seem to re­sent his pres­ence and in­vari­ably dis­card the fish. It is an odd four­some born of some in­ter­sec­tion of Joyce, Beck­ett, and Flann O’Brien; and yet they ap­pear to meet one an­other’s needs in some in­de­fin­able way. Even­tu­ally, the older women al­low Patsy en­try to their world as an em­bod­i­ment of their fan­tasy of Roller Doyle and their mag­i­cal mo­ment of sex­ual awak­en­ing — a po­tent mem­ory they are now in­tent on reen­act­ing as a way to en­trust it to Ada, a means of trans­fer­ring to her “the pat­terns safe.”

The Fu­sion play­ers of­fer this work in a tight en­sem­ble per­for­mance. Lau­rie Thomas, as Clara, is the most overtly daft of the bunch, a sort of Baby Jane but sweet at the cen­ter. Nancy Jeris, who ex­celled in Out­side

Mullingar last fall, brings a de­gree of no­bil­ity to Breda and proves quite ter­ri­fy­ing when she wants to change the at­mos­phere. Jacqueline Reid, as Ada, has rather less of a part, but her hov­er­ing pres­ence nev­er­the­less casts a long shadow. All three charge their roles with ner­vous, in­tense un­pre­dictabil­ity. From his open­ing ap­pear­ances as a pli­able and dis­pos­able vis­i­tor, Bruce Holmes builds the char­ac­ter of Patsy into some­thing mon­u­men­tal and pow­er­ful, tes­ti­mony to the breadth of his in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Walsh’s writ­ing is ir­re­sistible, wildly po­etic in its way, and the four of­ten de­liver it through mono­logues that can re­sem­ble elab­o­rate arias. Gil Lazier has not di­rected the play in an ob­vi­ously comedic way, although there is much in the pro­duc­tion that evokes smiles. In­stead, the au­di­ence is kept won­der­ing pre­cisely what is go­ing on, glimps­ing clues now and then, piec­ing to­gether what seems to be a re­al­ity within a strange house­hold. Although not laid out as sim­ple nar­ra­tive, the play holds a viewer’s in­ter­est cease­lessly through its un­in­ter­rupted span of an hour and 20 min­utes.

At­ten­dees may come to dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions about ex­actly what story is be­ing told. For my part, I be­came fix­ated on clues that kept pil­ing up to de­note The New

Elec­tric Ball­room is an ad­dled al­le­gory of Chris­tian be­lief and liturgy — not so sur­pris­ing, given the prob­a­ble lives of im­pov­er­ished peo­ple in an Ir­ish vil­lage. The play opens with the rit­ual ado­ra­tion of sa­cred garb that, we grad­u­ally learn, is a sym­bol of Roller Doyle and that will even­tu­ally el­e­vate Patsy (who, it seems, is Roller Doyle re­born as the Son). He will grow wor­thy of the out­fit only through a holy cleans­ing, a bap­tism that leads to “a new be­gin­ning” (as one of the char­ac­ters terms it), “a new day for us,” all this “ado­ra­tion for one man” who keeps ar­riv­ing bear­ing fish. One of the sis­ters has baked a pound cake that sits un­touched for much of the play. The cup­boards are filled ex­clu­sively with wa­ter crack­ers — com­mu­nion wafers, one might say — which Ada dis­trib­utes as aus­tere sub­sti­tutes while the vestal sis­ters forgo the luxury the pound cake con­notes. “What would the Vir­gin Mary think of all this, I won­der,” muses Clara of this pe­cu­liar do­mes­tic adventure of sacra­ment and ini­ti­a­tion. Still, the play does not strike an evan­gel­i­cal stance vis-à-vis its view­ers. It sim­ply builds po­tent theater out of the strands of ex­pe­ri­ence, mem­ory, and be­lief that have in­formed the lives of th­ese un­usual but in­trigu­ing vil­lagers.

— James M. Keller

Bruce Holmes and Nancy Jeris in

The New Elec­tric Ball­room

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