Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dancing at Lughnasa"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


by Brian Friel
directed by Rosann Santorelli

Kate … Julie Dapper
Maggie … Karen Dervin
Agnes … Dona Spurlock
Rose … Cherry Lynn Zinger
Christina … Gina Cuneo
Father Jack … Fred Marden
Michael … Webb Tilney
Gerry … Patrick Boyd

From what I’ve seen thus far, Brian Friel is a playwright of the tongue-tied: in PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME!, the son of an Irish household tries reaching out to his father on the eve of his departure for America but fails; in TRANSLATIONS, the characters grope towards communication as the Gaelic language is replaced by the conquering English; in AFTERPLAY, two of Chekhov’s characters are brought together in a café but are gently made to part; Mr. Friel’s masterpiece DANCING AT LUGHNASA depicts daily life among five spinster sisters living together in Ballybeg, Ireland, in 1936: Kate, the eldest, lectures her sisters on Thou Shalt Not; Maggie, the family clown, is ever ready with a quip and a cigarette; Agnes and the mentally-challenged Rose are already blighted souls; Christina, seduced by a wandering Welshman, raises their son Michael on her own --- the women’s brother Father Jack, comes home in poor health after twenty-five years of missionary work in a Ugandan leper colony; Kate expects their brother to resume his local preaching but, instead, Father Jack has been swayed by the pagan life force. Gerry, Christina’s lover, wanders back into her life with promises of marriage; the play is narrated by the grown Michael who doubles as his younger self, the latter being invisible to the audience and mimed by the other characters. The play’s title refers to a harvest festival where the townspeople dance in wild abandon; Kate forbids her sisters to participate but in the play’s most celebrated sequence the quintet execute a merry jig to music issuing from Marconi, the family’s temperamental radio --- gently, inevitably, Michael foreshadows his family’s changing fortunes which make the various fates all the more poignant in impact. This is a lovely, lovely mood-play, filled with the affectionate bickering and stinging reproaches that are the glue and grit that keep families together, for better or worse --- Chekhov, of course, is a member of this household with dancing at Lughnasa substituting for a trip to Moscow, alongside Federico Garcia Lorca whose YERMA has another female household being stifled by a dominatrix backed by the teachings of the Church; but, at heart, DANCING AT LUGHNASA is Mr. Friel returning to PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME!, complete with its theatre gimmick (i.e. LUGHNASA’s invisible child; PHILADEPHIA has its public and private son, played by two actors). The awards that DANCING AT LUGHNASA won on both sides of the Atlantic are well-deserved.

The TCAN Players production may be community theatre and its home, a former firehouse, and its stage and scenery are makeshift but Rosan Santorelli’s direction and her golden ensemble can hold their own against anything that professional theatre can muster, not to mention the solid dialects --- to single out members for individual praise would only slight their comrades (though I must confess that I was lured by the ever-luminous Julie Dapper being in the cast). What stunning orchestration, here, so that each character strikes his or her note with individual clarity and weight (no showy turns, here); in fact, the small-town atmosphere of Natick itself may have seeped into these humble, honest performances --- whatever the reason or cause, the dramatic results are the best that I’ve seen since Small World Big Sky’s production of A DOLL’S HOUSE, last December (which also boasted Ms. Dapper), and on the night I attended, the half-filled house sat in rapt enchantment --- accent on “half-filled”. I’m reminded of those two women mistakenly attending COMING UP FOR AIR at the BCA and enjoying themselves, nonetheless; a similar, delightful evening can be had for those who take time to make time for the pitifully few remaining performances of the TCAN production.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" (29 September - 8 October)
14 Summer Street, NATICK, MA
1 (508) 647-0097

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide