Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story Stages Touching ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’

2nd Story’s touching production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” is a tribute to Irish storytelling and great theater.

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 19th October 201319/10/13
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Memory plays have to be viewed with a good bit of skepticism because in most cases they are told from a point of view of someone other than an impartial observer. There is Tom in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. And there is Michael in Brien Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa,” playing through October 27 at 2nd Story Theatre. The narrators in these plays are young men who are fortunate enough not to have been irreparably damaged by circumstances surrounding their upbringing.

Because they fled, they survived, perhaps even thrived; we don’t know for sure, but we do know, particularly in Michael’s case, that he looks back on his early years nostalgically. And why shouldn’t he? He was raised by his mother and four doting aunts, not one of which has a man in her life.

Michael’s fond memories, however, need to be tempered with recognition of the harsh demands of Catholicism in rural Ireland, lest poverty becomes romantic and deprivation almost desirable. Bear in mind that a joyful noise emanating from the Irish countryside best not be the result of anything having to do with human pleasure. With this in mind, Friel’s script can be relished as a wonderful story populated with real and sympathetic characters.

What makes the play so enchanting are the five Mundy sisters, all unmarried, and living together in a crowded cottage in the Irish countryside with the aforementioned Michael (David De Almo) and Father Jack (F. William Oakes), an older brother recently returned from a 20-year mission in an African leper colony. Gerry, Michael’s absentee father, played wonderfully by James Lucey is the other male in the cast.

Director Mark Peckham’s handling of the sisters played by Rachel Morris, Christina Wolfskehl, Tanya Anderson, Erin Olson and Betsy Rinaldi is precise and sensitive. Rachel Morris’s portrayal of the elder sister and mother-figure Kate is marvelous; she is a bundle of repressed sexuality and devout Catholicism. Her love of family while not comprised by her religion is certainly adversely influenced by it. As a teacher, Kate is the family’s primary breadwinner.

Maggie is more worldly than her sisters and less repressed than the formidable Kate; she is the peacemaker in family squabbles and more of a free spirit, and Wolfskehl displays all the subtleties of her character exquisitely.

The special relationship between the quiet Agnes and simple Rose is captured beautifully by Anderson and Olson. The two of them knit mittens, selling them in local shops, to help the family make ends meet. Rose is infatuated with a local boy whose only interest in her is sex, but she is too naïve to recognize his motives. Agnes, as Rose’s protector, attempts to rescue her from her suitor and the scrutiny of Kate, but with unforeseen consequences.

Rinaldi’s portrayal of Christina is electrifying; her bouts of depression and jealously are interlaced with moments of joy; Gerry, the traveling gramophone salesman father of her illegitimate son, is the reason for such erratic behavior. The happy-go-lucky Welshman comes and goes at will while at the same time living a secret life back in Wales.

Only Father Jack is spared the wrath of the Church in Friel’s tale; Oakes interpretation of the elder brother is a fine piece of work; having gone native while in Africa, Father Jack has an appreciation for both the sacred and the secular. Oakes walks this fine line with all the dexterity of a circus performer on a high wire.

2nd Story’s touching production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” is a tribute to Irish storytelling and great theater. The joys and sorrows shared by the Mundy family are not something you’re likely to soon forget. Don’t miss it!

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