Dancing at Lughnasa is utterly brilliant because the inspired writing of Brian Friel shines throughout the entire production. Five unmarried women live in Donegal Homestead, 2 miles outside the town of Ballybeg in 1936. The eldest, Kate Mundy (Kristine Ann Lowry) is a school teacher. The youngest Christine Mundy (Lily Jackson) has had a child out of wedlock with her sweetheart Gerry Evans, engagingly performed by Mark Ian Schwartz. Maggy Mundy (Shannon VeonKase) is the house joker, and Agnes Mundy (Siobhan O’Brien) is the sad and serious one, who takes special care of Rose Mundy (Isabelle Grimm) who is simple.
Their Uncle Jack (Jim McFadden) is a priest who has been sent home ill from the African Missions, having lost touch with reality. The action is narrated by a grown up Michael Evans (John J. Hanlon) Christine’s son, from his perspective as a 7-year-old during the events of the play. Hanlon plays Michael as cheerfully reminiscent.
One of the tensions, challenges, and staging of the play, is the pull between the women’s reality and the processing of their lives through the prism of Michael’s memory. Director Patricia Miller, in this Novato production, favors the memory-play aspect. She states in the program “The narrator Michael, now middle-aged, returns to a moment in childhood and weaves a spell for the audience. The unreliability of memory makes space to play with the possibilities of narrative, where poetry, music, and movement are as real and embodied in fact.”
Thus, the staging is fluid. Mark Clark has designed a wonderful set with a cottage on stage left, and the outdoor clothes line for the family’s wash is stage right. The Lighting Design by Bill Weinberg is excellent, and so are the authentic costumes by Misha Murphy, assisted by Janice Deneau, and Mary Weinberg.
The entire production has a choreographed feel – not just the dance sequences. The whole point of the dancing in the play is to represent an escape from the repression of 1960’s Ireland. Because the women are moving in graceful slow-motion during Michael’s narration, they do not seem at all “repressed.” The sisters’ brilliant dancing to the raucous reel on the radio has a show-stopping impact. The acting throughout is generally outstanding. Shannon VeonKase, as the impish Maggy, is a particular treat.
This play is highly recommended, because the inspired writing of Brian Friel is bullet-proof.
Photography: Mark Clark
Dancing at Lughnasa began May 20 and will run through June 12 at Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C, Novato 94949.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Order tickets online up to two hours before performance times at www.NovatoTheaterCompany.org (print out your ticket from the confirmation email). If you are unable to print out your ticket, your name will be on a list at the Box Office at your scheduled time. The Box Office opens at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.
This is the final production of the 2015-2016 Season. Opening NTC’s 2016-2017 Season will be A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, from September 9 through October 2, 2016, directed by Michael Barr.
Flora Lynn Isaacson