1501 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Of a New Generation of Irish Playwrights:
Enda Walsh on The New Electric Ballroom
On inspiration for The New Electric Ballroom:
"I just had that image of older women dressed in 1950s gear with a big light on them."
On characters in The New Electric Ballroom:
“I can see a lot of me in Pat, in ‘The New Electric Ballroom.’ This fishmonger, who just can’t stop talking, trying to make sense of things and going into the details of the day and summing up where he is in relation to nature and geography and time and feeling really, really, really tiny. I can see that and in Ada, this woman whose afraid of emotion. Of opening herself up and allowing people close to her.”
On directing the first production of The New Electric Ballroom:
"I don't think I'm a director. I don't feel comfortable in the rehearsal room. I think my involvement in the play is done when I finish writing it. That's enough for me usually… [but] I really, really connected with the play -- and with the central character, Ada."
On repetition in two of his plays (The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom):
“It’s a comment on what time is and what time means to me. I find it nourishing as in ‘I’m going to get another day’ but I find it terrifying as in ‘What the Fuck am I going to do with this day? What kind of person am I going to be in 6 hours time? I might be dead in 6 hours time!’”
On the type of characters he writes:
“What motivates me in theatre has always been to get close to characters who’re on the edge of madness, or have entered it. It invigorates me to think that we’re all the same . . . The job of a playwright is to bring an audience close to characters they don’t want to feel close to.”
On his process as a writer:
“I don't know what is happening as I'm writing it and the audience have exactly the same experience. For me, that's when theatre works. I like to make people laugh, I like the excitement of it, I like the show of it - that's a good half of me. The other half of me is really happy to be lost in the work and trying to find my way through it."
Falling in love, risking it all, and an electric blue suit:
Enda Walsh talks about The New Electric Ballroom
On the core of the play
New Electric is really about the risk of falling in love and whether it’s worth it. I’d just moved to London and my whole life was changing. I wanted to get married, all that type of thing. There was something about watching these old women become their 18-year-old selves with their ra-ra skirts, pointy bras and massive Dusty Springfield hair and to consider what it is for your heart to dry up or be held or squeezed. This play is much more personal than The Walworth Farce. It is a quieter thing that concentrates on the heart, loss and love.
I mean, the play is about a man who went off with a different woman, a kiss that didn’t happen. A woman on the verge of having sex with a man, and he goes, ‘I’ll be back in a second,’ then doesn’t return. So this is a story about a 40-year-old woman who’s never been kissed. It’s about risk: is this person willing to open the door, step outside and interact with people? It’s a big thing getting up in the morning and living a day.
What he loves about the play
I really adore older women, women in their sixties and seventies, and I imagined these women transforming themselves into their 18-year-old selves. I’ve always liked characters to perform. I think it goes back to that Irish thing, you know, ‘Get up and do something! Show something of yourself!’
Where this play fits with his other work
I’ve been writing plays like this forever. It’s my preoccupation with patterns and routine. Getting up in the morning, living a day and being happy with that pattern, but then having moments where you think, ‘I really want to detonate this.’ I mean, I bluster through life, sleepwalk through months. The years are skipping away and I long for the life-changing afternoons and evenings. I remember in my 20s, all those difficult years, having big conversations, whether I’d split up with someone or fallen out with a friend, and afterwards thinking I’ll never be the same person again. With all my plays I want the audience to experience characters having life-changing events, afternoons where they’re going to be different people.
Feeling connected to Irish tradition
I always feel when I’m writing as if I have all those great Irish writers around me and echoes of Irish plays, but my own work comes out the way they come out. There’s a great big sort of blender that goes on and something new is formed. It’s something that I’m not at all conscious about. I sit down and attack my own anxieties and woeful need. From my point of view it’s my fear of life. I flail between really enjoying things and really despairing of things. Not in a depressive way, but I do get really, really anxious about things. I can see all of that in the play.
And why writing is the best job ever
Thank God I’m a playwright and I have access to getting this kind of thing worked out in a script. Everything my characters go through is the kind of thing I really really fear happening. Living by patterns and routines with a bigger story hanging over you and not being able to live your own life because of it—those are the things that everyone sort of feels on a daily basis.
Life is pretty strange and pretty complex. Characters in my plays are married to a particular ritual they're trying to reinvent, to break and make something anew. I find all of that repetition of living a life exhilarating and ridiculously depressing in equal amounts.
[Read The Washington Post Review]
“Engaging! Electric! Studio Scores!” –The Washington Post
“Unique! Unforgettable! Poignant! Comedic! The absurd and the sublime collide!”
–The Washington Examiner
“Luscious, language-drunk dialogue!” –DC Theatre Scene
“Wrenchingly good!” –We Love DC
–The Brightest Young Things
“Ace performances.” –Washington City Paper
Studio Scores with Enda Walsh’s Sisters Act
By Peter Marks, Tuesday, April 19,11:12 PM
The three sisters of Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom” are, like the celebrated siblings of Che¬khov’s play, linked forever by blood and thwarted potential. The elders of the trio, Breda (Sybil Lines) and Clara (Nancy Robinette), loll about, archiving their reminiscences of extinguished romantic hopes, while their younger sister Ada (Jennifer Mendenhall) takes care of the household and waits longingly for her chance to create her own passionate memories.
This gracefully acted, 90-minute drama completes the three-play festival of Walsh’s work that Studio Theatre has so lovingly assembled. And while “The New Electric Ballroom” does not come close to the dynamic level of “Penelope” — the biting, absurdist riff on “The Odyssey” that commenced this intriguing survey of the writer’s recent works — it is in its own softer way an engaging illumination of love’s labors’ losses.
Although the time seems to be the present, the situation and surroundings of “Ballroom” feel temporally frozen, the way things tend to, in a sleepy Irish fishing village. The sense of time standing still is reinforced in the brightly colored articles hanging on the wall of the sisters’ spare cottage: three party outfits from a night out long ago, when Breda and Clara each had a flickering moment of carnal possibility.
“We don’t want to be alone, but we are alone,” says the most aggressive of the sisters, Breda, played by Lines with an effective, brittle authority. The exertions of Breda and Clara — the latter in Robinette’s finely chirping performance forever going on about the marvels of her tiny feet — mostly concern dimming the expectations of Ada, who shuffles along under a perpetual cloud in Mendenhall’s expertly self-contained portrayal.
The director, Matt Torney, who handled the same duties in Studio’s third Walsh offering, “The Walworth Farce,” firmly and sensitively shepherds his actors through the landscape of their characters’ reveries. The psychic perspective of “Ballroom” is the reverse of that in “Penelope,” in which the assorted suitors for the title character live in dread anticipation of their approaching doom; the women of “Ballroom” are trapped in the past, endlessly reenacting the purported thrills of an evening at the titular dance palace, in which a local playboy supposedly made passes at the elder two.
Torney’s sound guidance includes eliciting a delightful performance from the evening’s fourth player, Liam Craig, in the role of the aptly named Patsy, a fishmonger and inveterate gossip who shows up regularly at the sisters’ door with fresh seafood. “I come with the tide,” he declares, and indeed, Patsy seems a washed-up product of the seaside — until a whiff of sex enters the room, rendered with almost sullen sparseness by set designer Debra Booth.
It is the change in the women’s attitude toward Patsy, from contempt to something warmer, that ignites the play’s one electric interlude: Patsy assumes the part of the wooer in Breda and Clara’s amorous fantasy, and serenades Ada with a lounge singer’s masculine sultriness. Craig adds an admirable air of the enigmatic to Patsy’s surprising transformation.
An audience can feel how ferociously the act turns on Mendenhall’s suffocating Ada, though Walsh’s occasional literary self-consciousness places constraints on the scene’s poignancy. You remain a bit more impressed by the writer’s poetic gift than absorbed with the characters’ drives and desires.
Nevertheless, “The New Electric Ballroom” provides another evening’s worth of evidence of why it was smart to make so much room for Walsh in Studio’s schedule. Even if breakthroughs aren’t in the cards for Ada and her sisters, bigger things lay ahead for the man who made them up.
Liam Craig (Patsy) was last seen at The Studio Theatre in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He has appeared on Broadway in Boeing Boeing and Off Broadway in The Internationalist at Vineyard Theatre; Aunt Dan and Lemon at The New Group; Two Noble Kinsmen at The Public Theater; Juno and the Paycock at Roundabout Theatre Company. Regional credits include The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Repertory Theatre; The Novelist at Dorset Theatre Festival; The Scene at Hartford Stage and Alley Theatre; and The Lady From the Sea at Intiman Theatre. Film and television credits include The Royal Tenenbaums, Mercy, Rescue Me, Boston Legal, and Law & Order. Mr. Craig will be seen next year at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in The Servant of Two Masters.
Sybil Lines (Breda) was last seen at The Studio Theatre in Moonlight. She has appeared on Broadway in Bedroom Farce, Waiting in the Wings, Aren’t We All, and Lettice and Lovage. She has also appeared in Claw at Manhattan Theatre Club; Philanderer at Roundabout Theatre Company; and Off Broadway in Footfalls. In Washington, she has appeared in numerous productions at the Folger Theatre, including Whose Life is it, Anyway? (American Premiere), Twelfth Night, and The Cherry Orchard (Helen Hayes Award nomination); Gertrude in Hamlet and Mrs. Alonby in A Woman of No Importance at The Shakespeare Theatre Company with Dixie Carter, directed by Michael Kahn. Regionally, she has performed as Ruth in Blithe Spirit at the McCarter Theatre with Christine Baranski; as David McCallum’s wife in the New England tour of Run For Your Wife; at The Berkshire Theatre Festival and Pasadena Playhouse in Stepping Out; and As You Like It at A Contemporary Theatre. Ms. Lines was a company member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for two years. Her television credits include Murder She Wrote, Hogan Family, and Edge of Night.
Jennifer Mendenhall (Ada) most recently appeared at The Studio Theatre in Circle Mirror Transformation, and in Crestfall and A Beautiful View for The Studio 2ndStage. She has been a company member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company since 1988, appearing in many shows including Clybourne Park and Measure for Pleasure. Recent productions elsewhere include Angels in America at Forum Theatre; Legacy of Light at Arena Stage; and Woman and Scarecrow at Solas Nua. She has appeared at Theatre J, Theater Alliance, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Humana Festival and Florida Stage. She is a recipient of the Helen Hayes Award, for which she has been nominated multiple times, The Washington Theatre Lobby Award, and a grant from the Boomerang Fund for Artists. As audio book narrator Kate Reading she has received the Audie, Voice of the Century and multiple Earphones (AudioFile), A Best Narrator (Audible), and Listen Up (Publisher’s Weekly) Awards.
Nancy Robinette (Clara) last appeared at The Studio Theatre in The Solid Gold Cadillac. She has also appeared in The Studio Theatre’s productions of The Play About the Baby and Souvenir, and The Studio 2ndStage’s production of Frozen, among many others over the last thirty years. She studied at The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and has since performed in most of the theatres in Washington for over 25 years, most recently at Ford’s Theatre and The Shakespeare Theatre Company. She has also performed regionally at New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout Theatre Company, The McCarter Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Papermill Playhouse, the Waterfront, and The Old Globe. She is a recipient of The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Will Award, a former Fox Fellow, and a multiple Helen Hayes Award recipient.
Directors and Designers
Matt Torney (Director) originally from Belfast, is a writer and director based in New York. He is an Associate Director of Rough Magic Theatre Company, one of Ireland's leading independent theatre companies. Past work includes the Helen Hayes Award nominated Improbable Frequency, a new musical by Arthur Riordan at Solas Nua; Black Milk at Prime Cut; The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Project Arts Centre/Making Strange (two Irish Theatre Award nominations including Best Director); Woyzeck at Rough Magic/Dublin Fringe Festival; and Paper Tigers, a new play by Ben Schiffer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. New York credits include The Dudleys at Theatre for the New City; The Angel of History at HERE Arts Center; and Sistahs with Collective:Unconscious. Mr. Torney holds an M.F.A. in Theatre Directing from Columbia University.
Debra Booth (Set Designer) returns to The Studio Theatre where she has designed Circle Mirror Transformation, Reasons to Be Pretty, Adding Machine, Moonlight, Blackbird, The Road to Mecca, The Internationalist, My Children! My Africa!, The Pillowman, A Number, Afterplay, Far Away, and many others. International work includes premiere operas, Marco Polo, composed by Tan Dun, directed by Martha Clarke, and The Hindenburg, composed by Steve Reich, directed by Roman Paska. Regional credits include The Lost Boys of the Sudan for Minneapolis Children's Theatre; Rough Crossing and Famous Orpheus for Geva Theatre; Marisol for Hartford Stage and the New York Shakespeare Festival; The Illusion, Baltimore Waltz, and Trying for Portland Stage; Pelléas et Mélisande for Skylight Opera; the New York premiere of Angels in America for The Juilliard School; and Broken Glass for the Philadelphia Theatre Company (Barrymore Award nomination). She has also collaborated with Estelle Parsons and Al Pacino on Salomé for the Actor’s Studio. Ms. Booth was the recipient of the NEA Design Fellowship, and is the Director of the Design at Brandeis University.
Michael Giannitti (Lighting Designer) has designed 38 productions at The Studio Theatre, including Tynan, Marcus; Or The Secret of Sweet, American Buffalo, Reasons to Be Pretty, In the Red and Brown Water, Legends!, Rock 'n' Roll, The Seafarer, The Road To Mecca, Shining City, The Pillowman, Fat Pig, Afterplay, The Life of Galileo, and Seven Guitars (Helen Hayes Award nomination). He has been teaching at Bennington College since 1992, and recently became Producing Director at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont. He designed lighting for the original Broadway production of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. He has designed extensively for Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Trinity Repertory Theatre, Capital Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, Weston Playhouse, and also for Chautauqua Theatre Company, Virginia Stage, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Portland Stage Company, George Street Playhouse, Arena Stage, Jomandi, Yale Repertory Theatre, Olney Theatre Center and the Spoleto Festival. New York credits include HERE Arts Center, Dance Theatre Workshop, Dancespace, The Joyce, The Kitchen and P.S. 122. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, he taught in Bucharest, Romania and Wellington, New Zealand.
Helen Q. Huang (Costume Designer) has designed more than 30 productions at The Studio Theatre including Rock ‘ n’ Roll, The Seafarer, The Pillowman, The Life of Galileo (Set/Costumes), and Indian Ink (Helen Hayes Award, Outstanding Costume Design). Regionally, Ms. Huang has designed for The Guthrie Theater, The Children’s Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Disney Creative Entertainment, The Utah Shakespearean Festival, and Boston Lyric Opera. In Washington, Ms. Huang has designed for Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, The Kennedy Center, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (2009 Helen Hayes Award nomination for Stunning). Her renderings were included in the New York Public Library’s 2009 exhibition: “Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance.” Ms. Huang is a professor in the M.F.A. Design Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Martin Desjardins (Sound Designer) is in his 10th Season as the Resident Sound Designer and Audio Supervisor for The Shakespeare Theatre Company/Harman Center for the Arts. Mr. Desjardins is also a freelance composer and designer in the United States and abroad. Credits include productions with The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, Centerstage, The Huntington Theatre Company, McCarter Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, Dallas Theatre Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville. Off Broadway credits include The Scene, columbinus, Below the Belt, and Gunshy, as well as North Atlantic and House/Lights with The Wooster Group. International credits include R.E.M. in Norway; Embracing the Riddle at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Death of a Salesman in Toronto; and Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He received the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Sound Design in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Mr. Desjardins has also received a Lucille Lortel Award for columbinus with New York Theatre Workshop. He trained at Yale School of Drama and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Robb Hunter (Fight Choreographer) has directed violence for Studio Theatre productions including Superior Donuts, American Buffalo, Legends!, and Reasons to be Pretty. Other credits include work at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Olney Theatre Center, Ford’s Theatre, Centerstage, Rep Stage, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, and Arena Stage with the upcoming Ruined. Mr. Hunter is a Certified Teacher for the Society of American Fight Directors and member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, AEA, SAG and AFTRA. He is currently Artist in Residence at American University and teaches stage combat in the M.F.A. program at Catholic University.
Nancy Krebs (Dialect/ Vocal Coach) previously worked at The Studio Theatre with Look Back in Anger. Other credits include Charlie’s Aunt, Blithe Spirit, Carousel, Lend Me a Tenor, Morning’s at Seven, Oliver!, Doubt, The Underpants, and Misalliance at Olney Theatre Center; The Woman Who Amuses Herself at Theatre Alliance; The Crucible, Red Herring, Slow Dance on the Killing Ground, The Pavilion, My Children! My Africa!, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Watch on the Rhine, The Waverly Gallery, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Candida, Betrayal, Sight Unseen, Turn of the Screw, I Am My Own Wife, and choral compositions and music direction for Our Town at Everyman Theatre; The Norman Conquests (Table Manners) at Bay Theatre Company; and Two by J.M. Barrie at Rep Stage.
Adrien-Alice Hansel (Dramaturg, The New Electric Ballroom) recently joined The Studio Theatre as its Literary Director, and dramaturged its production of Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. She spent the past seven seasons as the head of the literary department at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where she served as dramaturg on nearly 50 classic, contemporary, and new plays, including Humana Festival premieres by Rude Mechs, Gina Gionfriddo, Naomi Wallace, Jordan Harrison, Anne Bogart and SITI Company, Rinne Groff, The Civilians, Adam Bock, Charles Mee, Alice Tuan, and John Belluso. She has also worked in the literary offices of Yale Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Ms. Hansel holds an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.
Che Wernsman (Production Stage Manager, The New Electric Ballroom) previously stage managed for The Studio Theatre's The Year of Magical Thinking and The History Boys. Most recently, she stage managed Henry VIII at The Folger Theatre. Regional credits also include work at Everyman Theatre, Round House Theatre, The Kennedy Center, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Rep Stage, CenterStage, Olney Theatre Center, MetroStage, Maryland Shakespeare Festival, Virginia Shakespeare Festival, and The Wilma Theatre/Philadelphia Orchestra. Ms. Wernsman attended Virginia Tech and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Stage Mangers’ Association.
The Playwright: Enda Walsh
Enda Walsh’s plays have been widely produced and translated into over 20 languages. In his early twenties, Walsh moved to the rough but culturally rich Cork Ireland, where he was one of the first artists involved with the now famous Corcadorca Theatre Company. For this company, he wrote his first adult play, The Ginger Ale Boy (1995). The Corcadorca also premiered Walsh’s break-through play Disco Pigs (1996), which went on to numerous other productions, winning the Best Fringe Production Award of 1996 and the Critic’s Award in 1997 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The following year, Walsh received both a Stewart Parker Award for New Playwrights and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright. Walsh again swept the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001 with Bedbound (2000). The Walworth Farce garnered a Fringe First Award in 2007 and was quickly followed by the thematically-linked New Electric Ballroom, which won not only a Fringe First Award and the Herald Achangel Award but also The Irish Times’ Best New Play Award in 2008. His most recent play, Penelope (2010), premiered at the Druid Theatre Company before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Walsh has expanded his career into screenwriting, penning not only the film adaptation of Disco Pigs (2001) but also the screenplay for the much-lauded Hunger (2008), which was nominated for Best British Film at the British Academy Film Awards, and received the Best Film Award from the Evening Standard British Film Awards (2009) as well as the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. He is currently working on a wide variety of projects, ranging from a film adaptation for his 2005 play Chatroom to a children’s movie and biography of Dusty Springfield.