Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Michael Tabib
For tickets / schedule :
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio

RUN: July 8-30, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2016)

Nestled in picturesque Monte Rio, Russian River Hall is home to Curtain Call Theatre, a volunteer organization bringing performances to the Northern Sonoma County community. Their inspiration this season is Dancing at Lughnasa, a recent award winning play set in rural Ireland. Director Michael Tabib creates a traditional, formal staging. Michael Mundy (Bill Young) ruminates on his past as a boy in 1936 from a formal pulpit, detached from the energy of his family set in tableaux. While his perspective gives insight, isolated blocking slows the rhythm and infuses lonesome wistfulness to the primary action; Young does not have the dynamism to carry momentum through his soliloquies, causing uneven pacing. Although it is not a polished production, it is intimately emotional and filled with heart. The Mundy sisters are revealed as deeply passionate and vulnerable, willing to take chances for love.

Rustic, idealized set design by Jake Hamlin, Michael Tabib, and Dax Berg is a charming foundation for a gentle glimpse into Michael Mundy’s memories. His aunt Maggie (Avi Lind) is amiable, rather than fiery, an encouraging presence clinging to her Wild Woodbines. Kate (Michelle Randall) has an underlying sweetness to her struggle with modern values. Pamela Henderson’s Christina is demonstrative in her emotions, diving into misery and soaring with the heights of requited love, transforming into a fury when she realizes Gerry (Chris Reid) is openly flirting with her sister. Petra Sperling-Nordqvist as the unstable Rose is poised and elegant, augmenting the tragedy of her character’s future. Wanda Wiemar’s Agnes Mundy is clearly in love with Gerry, squirming in agitated guilt when he saunters into the cottage.

Recently returned from a lifetime in Africa, their brother Father Jack (Joseph Potter) is overwhelmed by his strange surroundings, and weakened by illness. Potter weaves a man who is not suffering from dementia; his Father Jack believes in the beauty and power of native ceremonies and culture, eschewing Catholicism for a religion of unfettered dancing and music. His rejection of the mold that Kate and the local parish wish to foist on him is calculated, not confused.

As evidenced in the title of the play, dance is integral to the story. Are the sisters too old for overt displays of pleasure—is hard duty and housekeeping all that is left to them? On the surface, the answer is affirmative, and firmly enforced by Kate, but in a moment of excitement she leaps from her chair to jump about the kitchen waving handkerchiefs and shrieking to music with the rest of them. Curtain Call Theatre’s Dancing at Lughnasa is a nostalgic journey of fleeting joy in a family decaying from unmet dreams. Russian River Hall is cozy, staffed by friendly theatre enthusiasts and is an easy, beautiful drive through the redwoods along the river just past Guerneville. Spend an evening with the Mundy sisters in a comfortable setting with lovely sets and good company.