Enda Walsh’s Mad Old Ballroom

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11/12/2009 4:30 PM |

However, there are striking stage images, as well as vivid language, in The New Electric Ballroom. After Ada declares her intent to leave, Breda and Clara change the game, inviting Patsy in and bathing him, like a baby (harking back to Breda’s remarks about the womb). They dress him in the garish costume of Roller Royle, the cad of a singer who let them both down. In their odd way, they're trying to be as helpful as the fairy godmothers in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Patsy tries to woo Ada with words, but nervousness gets in the way.

But when he grabs the standing mike and goes into "Wondrous Place," the 1960 Billy Fury song both Breda and Clara remember Royle delivering, it's magical. His transformation is exciting and gives off a pulse you can feel. When Ada says "what a difference you are to me suddenly" she describes the mood in the house.

She speaks her love song in answer: "Tone and air changed knowing that you are close to me. It's me and you, you and me. And then it starts as a quiet whisper 'tween two little old ladies who watch us pass by. And it takes to the air."

She concludes "The world knows of our new love. It's love." When Patsy answers "It's love" the audience holds its breath.

Murfi, as Patsy, delivers a tour-de-force monologue that takes him through the exhilaration of love all the way through to the other side, ending with despair and feelings of unworthiness. This and the song raise the play far above the somewhat amusing spectacle of odd sixty-something women reenacting their pasts. Patsy goes from "We're stood at the harbor and watching the horizon and we take to the sea then and the waves take us and the world opens to us further and further and I'm holding your hand. Your hand holding my hope." to "I'm kissing you with a kiss that lasts seconds too less for me but seconds too more for you. It's not you it’s not you!… A man whose only companion is fish and now sewn together with another heart?! Fuck it! My own heart's too scarred by days and nights aloneâ�‚�¦." The gorgeousness of the words and Murkel's compelling performance are theatrical enchantment.

He runs out of the house, leaving Ada in shock. The bleak let-down, leaving Ada with a slash of lipstick on her face to show she too will perform the endless performance of "woman jilted by unworthy love," is a bit safe, though logical.

You might think, if you've seen the three Enda Walsh plays produced in New York in the past year (The Walworth Farce, Disco Pigs, and The New Electric Ballroom) that Walsh takes a pessimistic view of life. But he's not so sure.

"The job of the playwright is to allow the characters to express as much as they can. I live my fucking miserable life in brilliant happiness, and anxiety and depression. It's the way I’ve been since I was a child. I don’t get depressed, I get frightened and fearful of the world, but I don't get black or fall apart. Even when the characters, god love them, and Ada has the ending that she has—there's a little turn-away at the end. I see that as the fight continuesâ�‚�¦ you don't get stuck or trapped in whatever the hell your life is, there's always another day."

Asked whether he does believe in the power of love, he answers: "Of course I do. We have to take risks, every moment of the dayâ�‚�¦ it's about reaching out to people. Even with the potential to be turned away at any time, and belittled. For Ada it isn't done yet. I need to think that, even if it's a small thing."

(photo credit: Toni Wilkinson)