Dancing at Lughnasa – Review

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Dancing at Lughnasa is a 1990 play by Irish dramatist Brian Friel (1929-2015), set in Ireland’s west coast of County Donegal during the summer of 1936, a memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator, who remembers that time as a seven-year-old.

Long considered a master English-language dramatist, his plays resonate with his love of the non-wealthy Irish folk.  Every August  in Donegal is the celebration of the Celtic harvest festival, Lughnasadh.  And just as it is a fun celebratory time for most, it is more of a bitter harvest for the five Mundy sisters, under the emotional thumb of the eldest, Kate (Martha Demson).  The other sisters, Maggie (Lane Allison), Agnes (Ann Marie Wilding), mentally-challenged Rosie (Sandra Kate Burck), and Christina (Caroline Kildonas), all grown and unmarried, live alongside Agnes’ illegitimate son, Michael, only seen as the grown-up writer (David Shofner) standing just out of sight of the other characters, narrating from his perceptions. Also a part of the family is their oldest brother, Father Jack (Christopher Cappiello), recently returned from a pastoral duty in a leper colony – possibly “retired” for having too close a relationship to the non-Christian natives and one houseboy in particular. 

Martha Demson, David Shofner, Caroline Klidonas
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Now, god knows, the Irish are unquestionably known as a gregarious lot, and Friel’s sweet play does live up to that stereotype, making the two-hour-plus run somewhat excessive. But this well-produced production, under the more-than-able hand of Barbara Schofield, allows her actors plenty of movement and timing to make the individual moments shine with excitement (the dance at home, for one, superbly choreographed by Jason Gorman) amid the overall feeling of sadness that filters through. 

Christopher Cappiello, Martha Demson, Lane Allison
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Certainly two of the elements that lay gently over the action is the realistic set of James Spencer (the construction by Jan Monroe) and the authentic costuming of Mylette Nora. Both reek of time, place and class. 

The accents were a minor problem with most of the actors hinting at an Irish brogue, but with only Burck as the damaged Rosie so authentic most of what she said was lost.

That being the only fly-in-the-ointment for me, it’s easy to encourage this readership to go see it and revel in what is always possible in theatre. Dancing at Lughnasa plays through August 18th, 2019, at the Atwater Village Theatre (Open Fist), 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, 90039.  Tickets:  323.882.6912 or www.openfist.org