(l to r) Nancy Robinette, Jennifer Mendenhall, and Sybil Lines in The New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh. Directed by Matt Torney. Photo: Carol Pratt.
Countless poets have asked the question – is love worth the risk of a broken heart? Are fleeting moments of a racing pulse and desire’s first flush worth facing the possibility of loss and loneliness?
To those questions, Irish playwright Enda Walsh adds – is it better to just stay safe inside? In The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom, playing now in repertory at Studio Theatre, “inside” is both the literal confines of a fixed space and the “inside” of one’s own mind and heart. “Inside” is both as safe and confining as the womb, the physical space as limited as the mental world is limitless. The choice of staying in or going out is of vital concern, stamping the characters with an equal dose of longing and repulsion.
Whereas The Walworth Farce deals with how this choice impacts three men and the woman who comes into their space, The New Electric Ballroom turns that question over to three women and the man who enters. “And enter then” is a phrase constantly repeated here, a reminder that no matter how safely we bind ourselves against risk, it always finds a way to seep in to our carefully constructed lives. Just as in The Walworth Farce, the three women in The New Electric Ballroom have constructed a daily world of stories, re-enacting the past where two elder sisters first met and lost love. The stories here are also a warning of the risk of the outside.
The results are not as physically violent, but the women are just as scarred, the desperate longing to escape from the demeaning cycle of small-town gossip driving them deeper into their minds. Continue reading
Ted van Griethuysen and Aubrey Deeker in The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh. Directed by Matt Torney. Photo credit: Carol Pratt.
In a dingy public housing apartment three men act out a daily routine, a twisted attempt at farce that’s rife with repeated humiliation and competition. It’s a “routine to keep the family safe,” the patriarch justifies, and it takes a bit for the audience to catch on that what they are seeing is the desperate attempt of an immigrant family to hold on to their past – as the fleeting smell of their mother’s roast chicken fades from their jackets.
Irish playwright Enda Walsh is one of my favorites (seeing Disco Pigs is still among my top theatrical experiences in DC), and the brilliant opening of New Ireland: The Enda Walsh Festival at Studio Theatre – Penelope – definitely raised my hopes for the next two productions. The Walworth Farce is next up, and though its first act has the tension build of a horror movie, it slowly winds down when it should crank up in the second act. Perhaps that was only the energy level of the matinee I saw, and there’s still time to get it sharper with the run already extended.
The play is perhaps a metaphor for the Irish immigrant condition, with the family patriarch Dinny (Ted van Griethuysen) keeping his boys locked up from the outside world of South London. Keeping them safe means keeping their memories of the home they left behind intact, down to the very smell, their Cork accents untouched. The play’s language is full of the deep nostalgia for things you can barely recall. But the memories the father instills in his sons are false, a story told repeatedly to hide the truth – that their diaspora was a necessity out of guilt and fear. Just to kick up that metaphor even more, the guilt is fratricide, which the boys are doomed to repeat.
It’s truly freaky how the first act unfolds, like an Irish Monty Python doing a sick reading of Flowers in the Attic. The three men toss about wigs and prank glasses and 1970’s clothes all too seriously. Then the father notices a mistake, breaks character, and the horror movie begins in earnest. Continue reading