(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
Fishmonger is not a sexy word. And words matter, a lot. They shape us; they are what create and destroy our worlds.
So it’s no surprise that the local fishmonger has a hard time finding love in Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom,” playing through June 6 at the Vortex, a co-production with Renaissance Austin Theatre.
Of course, the play is and isn’t about Patsy (Andy Brown). Just as it is and isn’t about the three reclusive sisters he visits every day. It is and isn’t about heartache and loss, about how one moment can shatter a lifetime. More than those things, the play is about language, about idle talk, gossip, rumors, about the stories we tell ourselves and others.
It’s a beautiful and strange play. It’s a short but powerful play. It holds echoes and whiffs of Beckett. It’s both a little bit real and a little bit fantasy – especially given the ways that the characters exist in a world of their own told and retold stories.
Breda (Jennifer Underwood), Clara (Karen Jambon), and Ada (Lorella Loftus) don’t get out much. In fact, Breda and Clara don’t get out at all. They live profoundly isolated lives in their run down little house in a tiny fishing village, telling the same stories over and over, afraid of the outside and the way that people talk.
The performances in this production are each powerful, carrying the weight of lengthy monologues, and the nuance of inner anguish.
But the characters are also perhaps a little too isolated, a little too disconnected from each other in Kevin Yancey’s directorial debut. They don’t really look at each other. They don’t connect.
And for people who’ve spent decades together, cooped up in a tiny space, no matter how lost they might be in their stories of the past, complete introspection loses one of the thrusts of the play. No man is an island, as they say.
While Walsh’s script calls for disorientation as we enter the world of the play, this production doesn’t ease that transition any. It takes a while to catch on that we’re watching a routine, a repetition of the same thing these women have been doing for years.
Once we do, though, Walsh’s script rings with vitality throughout the performance.
“The New Electric Ballroom” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through June 6 at the Vortex, 2307 Manor Road. $10-$30. www.vortexrep.org.