Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s Bittersweet ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’

When hardship befalls your family, sometimes all you can do is throw flour on your face, let out a shriek and dance like a lunatic around the kitchen table.

by Casey Nilsson, RI Monthly
  • 1st November 20131/11/13
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When hardship befalls your family, sometimes all you can do is throw flour on your face, let out a shriek and dance like a lunatic around the kitchen table.

That’s the central message of Dancing at Lughnasa, 2nd Story’s charming production about five unmarried sisters in rural Ireland. The Tony Award-winning play, Director Ed Shea said in his introduction, is unlike most Irish stories of “matricide, patricide, fratricide….” It’s about love.

But Shea left out one detail: Love and happy endings are not synonymous.

For starters, the youngest Mundy sister, Chris, played by a gracefully hot-and-cold Betsy Rinaldi, has a child, Michael, out of wedlock with a foppish English salesman — quite the scandal in the Christian countryside. A grown-up Michael, played by David De Almo, serves as narrator and drifts in and out of the play, looking over the shoulder of a dear aunt or watching from afar as his mother and father, unattached yet infatuated, dance in the wet summer grass. Set designer Trevor Elliot crafted a modestly romantic country home, complete with a rustic stone hearth and slate floors. The open layout of the cottage blends seamlessly with realistic hills of green and cascading stone walls, where the estranged lovers’ meetings take place.

The pious Kate Mundy, played by Rachel Morris, is the breadwinner and teaches school in another part of town. Morris does a fine job leaping from pompous to playful to downtrodden then back to pompous again. As matriarch of the family, she is flawlessly convincing.

Actor Christina Wolfskehl shines just as bright in her role as Maggie Mundy, the sassy sister. Wolfskehl provides elemental comic relief with riddles and foul-mouthed pagan songs, sure, but the actor’s quick wit and big, bold expressions make for the heartiest of belly laughs — even in the midst of a lost job or a roving lover at the doorstep.

Morris and Wolfskehl — with the help of Rinaldi and actors Tanya Anerson and Erin Olsen, the eldest and the neediest sisters, respectively — elevate the performance to Little Women status in that they humanize the very powerful topics of poverty and family. They’re as genuine as any real-life sisters, especially to the all-grown-up narrator, Michael, as he recollects the last good summer of his childhood.

Over the course of the play, the audience learns of a number of tragedies that strike the Mundy household. But for some time, the family got on; they even danced. That’s what Michael remembers — and, in life, that’s what we should remember, too.

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