Currently on stage at Two River Theatre in Red Bank
The late Brian Friel, considered one of Ireland’s finest playwrights, won his only Best Play Tony Award for Dancing at Lughnasa. This portrait of a magical August in 1936 has been given a beautiful production at the Two River Theatre in Red Bank. It is a play to capture the heart.
Michael Evans narrates the tale of his seven-year-old self and the five Mundy sisters — his mother and his four aunts — at a pivotal time in their lives. The women’s brother has just returned from decades of missionary work in Uganda after being stricken with malaria. Michael’s footloose, adventure-seeking father, who never married his mother, pays one of his infrequent visits. The pagan harvest festival Lughnasa approaches, stirring the sisters’ blood and causing them to break out in uninhibited dance. The possibilities of love both new and rekindled grow in the summer’s warmth. Finally, Michael relates the fates of his family members but still recalls that long-ago August with warmth and affection.
The cast of Dancing at Lughnasa is outstanding
Jessica Stone directs an outstanding cast. Megan Byrne is Kate, the eldest sister who acts as the mother figure in the household. Family housekeeper and peacemaker Maggie is portrayed by Mylinda Hull with a wicked sense of humor. Mandy Siegfried’s Rose, appearing at times to be developmentally disabled, is an innocent romantically pursued by a local married man. Christa Scott-Reed is Agnes, her fierce emotional fires banked down deep within. Christina, Michael’s mother who is still reluctantly attracted to Michael’s father, is portrayed by Meredith Garretson. Michael Cumpsty is Father Jack, recovering his health and his memory under his sisters’ care while retaining his admiration for the pagan rituals of Uganda. Cillian O’Sullivan captures the charismatic Gerry, Michael’s father, rakish and attractive but not one to stay too long in any one place no matter how much he’d like. Finally, Harry Smith portrays Michael both as an adult and, using his vocal talents alone, as
the young boy adored by the five sisters.
Two River’s technical team has once again risen to the challenge of creating the world of the Mundy family outside of the town of Ballybeg. Huge credit goes to scenic designer Tobin Ost, whose outstanding work in creating the family’s cottage is complimented by that of lighting designer Jason Lyons and sound designer Drew Levy. Gabriel Berry’s costumes are evocative of time and place, allowing the audience to sum up the characters’ personalities and emotions at a glance.
Dancing at Lughnasa has been described as a memory play. Indeed, most commentaries on the play mention that it was inspired by playwright Friel’s memories of his own aunts. He has created a work of warmth and love for a time and people long past, one that will leave audiences with fond memories and rueful smiles of their own. Spend an Irish August in one evening at Two River Theatre in Red Bank by seeing Dancing at Lughnasa.
Dancing at Lughnasa is presented by Two River Theatre at the Rechnitz Theatre in Red Bank through May 13, 2018. For tickets and information, visit tworivertheater.org.