That end-of-semester blah feeling has spread to Temple Theater.
The final production of the semester, Dancing at Lughnasa, does not reach the height of the other productions in the otherwise excellent 2001-2002 season. Written by the Irish playwright Brian Friel, the play suffers from a less-than-compelling plot.
Dancing at Lughnasa tells the story of five sisters who live together in County Donegal, Ireland. Set in 1936, the play revolves around these women as they struggle with the challenges of being poor and life in general. Michael, the seven-year-old son of one of the sisters, and their brother Jack also live in the house.
The play is narrated by the grown-up version of Michael. He provides details on the history of the family as well as information on what happens to the characters in the future.
During the course of the play, the story of each of the characters comes out. Jack, a Catholic priest suffering from malaria, has returned home from his leper colony in Africa to recover from his illness. Kate, the oldest of the sisters, teaches school in the nearby village. She runs the house according to her strict Catholic morals, causing friction amongst the sisters who are not as set in Catholic ways.
The other sisters mostly stay at home performing domestic duties. They all take care of the youngest sister, Rose, who suffers from a mental disability. Michael’s mother, Christina, also has to deal with his father, Gerry, who has been missing for a year.
The characters themselves present an opportunity for what could have been a much more intriguing story. However, despite the overall lackluster plot, the play has moments that shine, especially those centered on dance.
The sisters, who are all single and heading into middle age, have a huge argument about going to the harvest dance like they used to in their youth. The argument highlights the conflicts between tradition and modernity taking place in Ireland and elsewhere at the time. Soon thereafter, they all break into dance to a song playing from their new radio. Even Kate, who made the argument against going to the harvest dance, joins in.
The cast gives a strong performance, although at times their accents slipped away. Kaleo Bird and Nancy Eyerman, playing Kate and Christina, gave especially emotional performances as their characters dealt with huge strains on their lives. Marla Burkhodler, playing the mentally challenged Rose, does an amazing job with her character, portraying the frustration and anguish evident in Rose’s life.
The production of Dancing at Lughnasa was excellent, with a beautiful set, strong direction, and graceful choreography of the dance sequences. Along with the cast, this helps overcome some of the difficulties in the writing.
The closing production of this school year is not the best, but I am looking forward to next year’s season, which should boast another round of good theater.
Dancing at Lughnasa is playing at Temple’s Randall Theater through April 27.
Brian White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org