Entertainment » Theatre


by Ellen Wernecke
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 13, 2009

One of the many standout scenes in filmmaker Mike Leigh's latest movie "Happy-go-Lucky" is an exquisite moment in an ordinary London apartment. Our heroine Poppy (Sally Hawkins) has just gotten back from a dance club with her roommate and their friends, who have all collapsed around the living room with a case of the giggles. It's a showpiece for the naturalism Leigh is able to coax out of his actors, one extended and deepened in his Thatcher-era play Ecstasy, which in the hands of the Horse Trade Theater Group is as natural if not as cheery.

"Ecstasy" follows a few days in the life of Jean (Mary Monahan), a garage station attendant in whose tiny but private apartment the play is set. Jean is an anti-Poppy, hiding behind her long bangs and a calculated note of false gaiety in her voice, even when her best friend Dawn (Gina LeMoine) comes over before a night at the pub. Later, Dawn, Jean and her hard-drinking husband Mick (Brandon McCluskey) return for a nightcap with Len (Stephen Heskett), a high school friend who made it to London only to have his wife leave him.

Not much "happens" in "Ecstasy" but the interplay among the foursome with a long history is never boring, nor does it feel forced. The old friends drink, sing and occasionally fall silent, but the balance of chemistry among them remains. Particularly strong in this aspect are Heskett, whose awkwardness detonates several of the play's silences, and LeMoine's complete comfort with the Leigh vernacular and rhythms of British speech. When the party ends and Jean goes to bed alone, it completes the naturalistic arc of the show.

Through Jan. 25 at the Red Room, 85 E. 4th Street. For tickets and more information, visit the Horse Trade Theater Group online at horsetrade.info

Ellen Wernecke’s work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and The Onion A.V. Club, and she comments on books regularly for WEBR’s "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." A Wisconsin native, she now lives in New York City.

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