Reclusive sisters fight reality in ‘New Electric’

By Matt Watson

Lights flood the stage, revealing three women standing in a dingy kitchen. Breda, played by Kate Buddeke, faces the wall with her hands against it, bursting into a rant and spitting her words out with the cadence of a stubborn child. “By their nature people are talkers,” Breda rambles.“You can’t deny that.”

“The New Electric Ballroom,” which opened on Jan. 21 at A Red Orchid Theater, 1531 N. Wells St., and runs through March 6, tells the tragic tale of three sisters who close themselves off from society in a small Irish fishing town. Driven by powerful performances, the play shines despite its bleak story.

Originally produced by the Druid Theater of Galway, Ireland, playwright Enda Walsh creates a dignified portrait of women who would rather retreat from life than risk being hurt. The actors do an excellent job dragging the audience through their monotonous world.

The story slowly unravels through monologues by the two elder sisters, Breda and Clara, played by Buddeke Laurie Larson, who recount an incident the two shared in their late teens. The actresses are spectacular as older women traveling back to the prime of their lives, spilling stories with childish glee that turns to petulance as they uncover their darkest moments.


he two were struck with tragedy in their late teens as both fell in love with the same rock star, only to have their hearts broken after finding him with another woman.

Ada, played by Kirsten Fitzgerald, was a baby when her sisters fell into despair. Spared the sorrow of her sisters’ rejection but brought down by it nonetheless, she is the one to ever leave the house. She works at the local cannery, “turning fish into numbers,” she said.

Fitzgerald’s performance is much more subtle but no less powerful. Her best moments are of her coaxing her sisters into their normal routine with short outbursts that cause the audience to jump in their seats. Even when she doesn’t talk, her face speaks volumes.

The tension on stage is palpable at times. “There’s a lull in the conversation,” a nervous Clara said every time this occurs. “The type of lull that can get you worrying about other things.”

Patsy, a cannery worker played by Guy Van Swearingen, occasionally breaks this pattern when he bursts in the door, bringing fish to the sisters. He continually tries to converse with the reclusive women, delivering sad monologues of his own lonely life, only to be rebuffed by Breda who screams for him to get out. Ada is the only one who seems intrigued by his presence.

On his final visit, while Ada is off resting, Patsy pleads to be invited in as a guest. Breda refuses at first, but the gears start to turn in her head as she divulges a plan to show her youngest sister why they never leave the house.

The play is a gloomy account played in the present while mostly detailing past events. It isn’t depressing, though. The sisters’ plight is almost comical at times, with the audience joining in laughter at the ridiculous retelling of high school crushes that have ruined lives 30 years later.

Patsy offers the variable for change in this equation, but it becomes clear from the beginning this story can’t end happily. It would ruin the flow and essence of it. “The New Electric Ballroom” is witty, hypnotic and tragic. The point clearly comes across: Rejection is a normal part of life, and fear of it is worse than the actual pain it causes.