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Theater Reviews

Apr 29, 2001 - Nevada Rep's Compelling "Dancing at Lughnasa"

By Jack Neal

Brian Friel's touching play, "Dancing at Lughnasa," is being given a most sensitive presentation by the Nevada Repertory Company. The production opened Friday (4/27/2001). Directed with an obvious love for the material by Susan Klemp, acted by eight beautifully cast and prepared actors playing their roles on a set, designed by Larry Walters, entirely reminiscent of an Irish cottage, "Dancing at Lughnasa" is nothing less than a vibrant, life-embodiment theatrical achievement.

Lugh (pronounced Loo) was the Celtic god of the harvest. In Ireland sixty years ago - the play is set in 1936 - Lughnasa, the god's feast day, was still celebrated in some parts of rural Ireland with bonfires and dancing. However, the play is not about pagansim. Not entirely at least. It deals with the suppression of earthy instincts which leads to emotional explosions. To be natural, the play implies, is to burrow beneath the strictures of civilization.

Friel signals this theme by tying together the cultures of the Irish, the feast of Lughnasa, as seen through the desirings of the five Mundy sisters, and the culture of one African country, as fuzzily remembered by the sisters' priest brother, Jack, who spent many years in Uganda and who reverts to recollections of Ugandan rituals.

The Mundy sisters range in age from the twenties well up into the forties. Presumably four of them are virgins. One of them has a love child, a boy, but no husband. During the play the boy's father comes around to tell the boy's mother he's off to fight aganist Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The youngest sister, who is simple minded, has a young man tagging after her to console him from whatever is missing from his physical needs.

Into this small cottage of large and congested feelings comes the family's first radio. It breaks down. It's repair coincides with a crisis in both the Mundy sisters' finances, their sexual feelings and the arrival of the Feast of Lughnasa. As the radio feeds music into their cottage, one by one the sisters begin to dance. The result is the play's most joyous and compelling moment - an outburst of near-wild physicality, the sisters' own private Lughnasa.

As the sisters - the severe elder sister Kate (Terri Gray), stalwart Agnes (Chamaea C. Tausch), simple-minded Rose (Susan Lingelbach), lovely Christina (Debby Reiser) and feisty Maggie (Kimberlee A. Pechnik) - all actresses deliver splendid life-like portraits of very human beings. As their priest brother, Jack, Bill McCandless creates a sad wonderment of a man lost in the conflicts of his devotion to Catholicism and its collision with the realities of his life. As Gerry, Christina's dashing lover and lover of life, Bradford Ka'ai'ai is a consistently luminous reminder of why life's freedoms are so exhilarating. As Chrsitina and Gerry's mature son, Michael, through whose eyes and words "Dancing at Lughnasa" is recollected and told, Brian Barney is nothing less than fine.

What lovely performances. And what a marvelous play, if you will, of tragic elation. Playwright Friel's speciality as a writer is to let us know that destiny may ultimately be dark, but along the way that darkness may be broken - or at least interrupted - by lightning flashes of the human spirit. That is the glowing essence of "Dancing at Lughnasa," which is so gorgeously intact in this insightful and rich presentation.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" can be seen at the Redfield Studio Theatre on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, 900 North Virginia Street, Reno, Wednesday through Saturday, May 2 through 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 6 (2001) at 1:30 p.m. For information call 775-784-6847.

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