Dancing at Lughnasa - Theatre Review

A review by Rachel Flanagan.

Nan McNamara, Rory Patterson, Maurie Speed, Lauren Thompson and Tannis Hanson star in the ACTORS CO-OP production of "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" by Brian Friel, directed by Heather Chesley and now playing at the ACTORS CO-OP Crossley Theatre in Hollywood.PHOTO CREDIT: Lindsay Schnebly

As the narrator of Dancing at Lughnasa drifts into memories of his hometown in the fictional Irish village of Bellybag, he recalls that his memory of the summer of 1936, when everything he knew had changed, was simultaneously actual and illusory.  That particular summer has been imprinted on his mind since he was a young child, and is brought to reality in the 1992 Tony award-winning masterpiece by Brian Friel. The narrator, a now older Michael Evans, recalls the summer when a radio brought music into the household he lived with his mother and her four sisters but also the melancholy, frustration, romantic longing and winds of change that same summer brought upon them.

(Left: Mark Bramhall, Michael Knowles and Nan McNamara )

The Actors Co-op has revived the semi-autobiographical story of Friel's own mother and aunt for a limited time at the Crossley Theatres.
The five actresses playing the unmarried sisters each bring a sense of light and vibrancy to an otherwise dark and sorrowful time before everything they had come to know was about to change.  Kate, the eldest sister and prim schoolteacher (Nan McNamara) keeps the household together with the only regular wage between them.  Agnes (Maurie Speed) is the responsible one knitting gloves for extra cash, taking care of the house and watching over the simple minded and love struck Rose (Tannis Hanson). The jokester Maggie (Rory Patterson) hides her worries in fun and riddles and relishes in the dancing that the radio has allowed into their home.  Chris, (Lauren Thompson) is the unwed mother of the narrator, Michael Evans (Michael Knowles), wishing to be young and beautiful again and delights in the visits, although infrequent, of her sons father Gerry (Stephen Van Dorn) a Welsh salesman full of promises and new schemes.

(right: Maurie Speed, Rory Patterson, Nan McNamara and Lauren Thompson )

That summer, Michael recalls the two significant events that bring the memory to the forefront.  Not only did the family acquire their first radio, that only sometimes works, but it also marked the return of the infamous Father Jack (Mark Bramhall), a missionary priest back from his 25-year stint in a Ugandan Leper colony.  Father Jack returns with his mind diminished and his faith altered from his time spent with the Leper colony and the sisters soon discover it was not a medical condition that sent him home, but disgrace. As our narrator acts as a vessel to bring this memory to life, he sometimes gives voice to his 7-year-old self and other times offers a glimpse at what is to come for the family.  Through it all, the march of industrialization, the judgements of a community filled with gossip and the destruction of hope act as a silent backdrop to a household of seemingly happy sisters who will soon find themselves longing for one last chance to dance together in the kitchen of their house that could not hold them together.

(leftt: Rory Patterson and Nan McNamara )

Dancing at Lughnasa
 through Sunday June 12th
Friday and Saturday 8pm and Sundays 2:30pm
Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre,
1760 N. Gower St.
(on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.

Tickets may be purchased by phone at (323) 462-8460 or visit www.ActorsCo-op.org.

Posted By Rachel Flanagan on May 09, 2016 01:55 pm | Permalink