Dancing At Lughnasa
At Frederic Wood Theatre until Dec. 1
Tickets: 604-822-2678, theatre.ubc.ca
Have you ever noticed the similarity between Dancing at Lughnasa and The Glass Menagerie? In both, a man (the narrator) imagines revisiting his past; standing to one side, he looks back into the family home with affection mixed with guilt at having abandoned his sister(s). In Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Tom left his mother Amanda and pathologically shy, club-footed sister Laura. In Irish writer Brian Friel’s play, Michael (Alen Dominguez) walked out on his mother and her four spinster sisters leaving them to fight poverty and the joyless rigidity of the Irish Catholic Church.
Dancing at the pagan harvest festival, the Lughnasa, is forbidden but oh, how Maggie (Courtney Shields), Agnes (Georgia Beaty), Michael’s unmarried mother Chris (Emma Johnson) and Rose (Pippa Johnstone) would love to hoist their skirts and dance with the abandon of their Ballybeg neighbours. But Kate (Tracy Schut), the eldest, puts a stop to any thoughts of dancing.
In a time-honoured tradition of Irish drama, Gerry (Matt Reznek), a charming scoundrel drops into the Mundy sisters’ lives then drops out again, leaving behind only broken promises.
As a counterpoint to Catholicism comes Michael’s Uncle Jack (Kenton Klassen), a disgraced priest recently returned from Uganda. Sent to convert villagers, he has, instead, enthusiastically embraced paganism. Ballybeg’s parish priest makes sure that Kate, the main breadwinner, loses her teaching position as if she is somehow tainted by brother Jack.
Very fine set design by Carolyn Rapanos and lit by Won-Kyoon Han, features a cutaway, sod or thatched cottage with a huge hearth. Stephanie Kong’s costumes are appropriately made of what looks like well-worn cotton.
Director Cooper’s decision to have all the actors attempt Irish accents and speech rhythms (with the exception of Welshman Gerry) has mixed results.
Dancing at Lughnasa is not all gloom but the pervasive mood is bittersweet touched by Michael’s regret at having moved on as, he says, “young men do.”