Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Molly Noble
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
RUN: October 14-30, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(October 14, 2016)
This year, the North Bay abounded with Brian Friel’s masterful play Dancing at Lughnasa. I have yet to tire of this bleak, yet intimate story of an Irish family’s final moment of happiness during the harvest festival of Lughnasa in 1936. Director Molly Noble paints a delightfully hopeful vignette, filling it with innocence, contemplation, and toe tapping Irish step dancing that has been missing in recent productions. Distinctly unique sisters come together with vibrant chemistry in a strong ensemble cast, nestled in an airy set design that concentrates on the house, rather than outdoor action, leaving the tree to imagination and centering on the living women instead. Missy Weaver’s lighting design transforms a soft coral background painting by Marie Lynne into deep reds evocative of African bonfire ceremonies, or cheerful pale gold when laughter permeates the air: a visual representation of shifting emotion in the play.
As evident from recent productions, the narrator Michael (Steven Abbott) is crucial to maintaining the weight of tension between scenes. If energy drops during his soliloquies, the main cast struggles to right it again. Fortunately, Steven Abbott carries his role with easy grace, using a hint of lyrical brogue and gentle humor. His memories enhance the story, filling in cracks of knowledge, leading the audience through the experience with compassionate retrospection.
Outwardly stern Kate (Floriana Alessandria) feels that she alone must keep the household together, but senses that her control is slipping. Her breakdown to Maggie reveals a woman who desperately needs to be useful to the family she loves. Ivy Rose Miller as Chris, though slipping with her accent, brings the sweet naiveté of one who is genuinely in love, and unwilling to admit failure; she chooses hope over bitterness. Maggie is known for her outgoing antics; Liz Jahren brings out the devouring depression that underlies her character, glazed over in agony after considering her story of the Military Two-Step judges. Ilana Niernberger’s Agnes is a focused presence onstage, intermittently bursting with passion beneath her brooding. Providing lighthearted relief through his anecdotes and search for proper vocabulary, Father Jack (John Craven) shuffles through the family drama with detached serenity, content in his faith and daydreaming of returning to Uganda.
This spirited production reminds us that each moment is fleeting; we must grasp onto them while we can. Main Stage West presents an optimistic Dancing at Lughnasa through a subtly tender love story, pondering what it means to be adrift, and discovering faith in unlikely places. Spend your evening with the Mundy sisters in this engaging Irish play.