Thursday, February 24, 2011

The New Electric Ballroom (A Red Orchid Theatre Company)

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Old Town neighborhood to see a play! My wife and I were ecstatic to take in a story in a different part of town. We get used to the ho-hum, same old North side joints and forget that there are other places in this beautiful city. Old Town is MUCH better of a place.
They've got a stand-up comedy theater, a Subway restaurant, and the bums are much more cosmopolitan and pay you compliments when you walk past.
This is also where you will find A Red Orchid Theatre Company. A Red Orchid has never been afraid to push the boundaries of theatre and art, and plus they are equity, so most actors know they will never work there.
The actors that DO work there are of the highest caliber, and from the moment you arrive, you can tell that these guys are in it for the love and not the hundreds of dollars awarded them.
Case and point: The Irish classic "The New Electric Ballroom" a 2008 piece from the New Voice of Ireland Enda Walsh.
The play is cast with actors we have all undoubtedly heard of, if not seen perform a thousand times before. They are Legends of Chicago, and this is the piece that has brought them together.
Let me tell you what it is about, I think.

There are these three sisters that live in a kitchen in Ireland. They sit around all day and stare at the wall and put lipstick all over their faces and talk in these crazy Irish accents that are not the funny and sort of racist Irish accents we are used to. Well, these women do something really special. Everyday, they reenact this time when a pop singer came to town and made out with one of them and then the other one saw and ran off. They sit all day long and do the same monologues everyday about how they felt when they were in high school and this happened. Then they put on the same clothes they were wearing that night and then they cry or make cakes, depending on the day. They always go through this night, which must have been pretty painful, and an event we can all relate to.
Remember when you were in high school, and Bell Biv Devoe came to town and you and your sister were so excited to see Michael Bivins onstage. Then, during "Poison" he happens to catch your eye in the audience. You lock eyes. Your hearts beat as one. He waves you backstage and your sister follows. You are ready to sacrifice your purity for one night with this award winning musical hero. He sits you down by his makeup bench. He comes in for a kiss and his tongue is where happiness lives. He kisses you hard, then harder, then softer, then, you hear a noise and Michael goes to find out what it is. You wait for him but secretly you know that the moment has been lost. All your dreams of getting the high, hard one from your greatest musical influence of the last 15 years have vanished. Then you go home and tell this story everyday for the next 40 years. All hope of ever starting a family or finding any sort of relevance in your own life has disappeared because you are too big of a pussy to just get over Michael Bivins.
So you sit in your kitchen and put lipstick everywhere, in the hopes of...

Now, I will be the first to tell you that I have a very utilitarian male brain. I love a get up and go story with somebody to cheer for and a bad guy who wants to blow up all these hostages, and sometimes nuance and mental illness confuses me on stage because it's not all spelled out. I find myself thinking things like:

"Wait, why can't these women just get over it already?"
"Why did they send off that lady to the plastic room?"
"How much fish can these women possibly eat?"
"Who's THIS dude?"

In between the moments of confusion for my tiny brain though, there is beautiful poetry to be heard. Words are spoken in ways you have never heard before, since they have this crazy accent, so simply adjusting to the sounds adds a feeling of isolation to American audiences. There are stellar performances by the whole cast, but the standouts for me were Kirsten Fitzgerald as the younger sister who is sort of like "What the fuck is going on around here" and Guy Van Swearingen as the fish delivery man who gives monologues in doorways.

In addition, I'd like to tell Elise Kauzlaric to watch her back because there is a new dialect coach in town that's no joke. Her name is Anita Deely and she has turned these actors into the real deal.

This play isn't for everyone, but it IS still playing, and I bet you will have a good time.
When my wife and I left, we discussed it for the rest of the night! Sometimes, maybe it is better to see things that make you think about junk and take you to Old Town.

Thank you A Red Orchid for making my marriage stronger!!
Do it for your OWN marriage!!


-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach