EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
Below are excerpts from the September 12, 2018 DC Theatre Scene review of Dancing at Lughnasa by Jayne Blanchard.
Dancing at Lughnasa casts a spell before the actors utter a word. Irish music peppily plays as you enter the theater and drink in Yu-Hsuan Chen’s painterly set–with sinuously twisted old trees and a stone country cottage rendered in ochres, browns and golds that suggests the Arts and Crafts style. A little smoke puffs cozily out of the stone chimney as you settle into Brian Friel’s rueful memory play.
Narrator Michael (Tim Getman) looks upon the scene from the perspective of a middle-aged man who left Ballybeg with relief many years ago. He remembers that long-ago summer with his aunts and unmarried mother Chrissy (Katie Kleiger), the last time his childhood was happy. In his sensitive, nuanced portrayal, Getman reminds you of Tom, the narrator in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie—that of a man both inexticably bound and shaped by the past he so desperately escaped.
Amber Paige McGinnis directs Lughnasa as precisely as a dance, the careful movements of the characters expressing their personalities and innermost emotions. Maggie (Megan Anderson) is the most expressive of the lot, kicking up her heels and saucily swinging her hips to popular music on the temperamental wireless (it craps out at the most inopportune moments) as she puffs on an ever-present cigarette. Maggie is full of jokes, riddles and pranks, but in Anderson’s deft hands, her lightheartedness betrays an earthy wisdom, especially in her dealings with young Michael, as she tries to spark his imagination and a child’s sense of wonder.
Bari Hochwald’s Kate is an impeccable study of the stern schoolmarm (which Kate is), whose good heart shines through all the nagging and rules-setting. She particularly expends her prim scorn on younger sisters Aggie (a fragile, almost otherworldly Annie Grier) and the mentally challenged Rose (Labhaoise Magee, prickly and determined), who hand-knits gloves for a hard-earned living.
Kate’s also determined to whip Uncle Jack (Bruce Randolph Nelson) into shape, as he’s returned home quite altered after 25 years in a leper colony in Uganda. Swahili is his perferred tongue as he tries to remember his old life in Ballybeg and his priestly duties, but tribal life and the community ceremonies and rituals–as well as his relationship with his Ugandan houseboy–rise up vividly and with an immediacy that makes Jack glow with joy. Nelson is the most physically uninhibited of the characters, his long strides and rhythmic, tribal motions suggesting a man more at home in the bush than the bog.
As affecting as Nelson is, the two star-crossed lovers–Chrissy and the father of her child, the dapper and disappointing Gerry (Danny Gavigan)–really tug at your heart. To watch Kleiger try to suppress the happiness brightening her face when she sees Gerry and failing miserabiy is indelible, as is observing them dancing in the garden, perfectly suited as dance partners, but sadly unsuitable as life partners. Gavigan is every bit the charming traveling salesman, yet one who clearly sees his inadequacies and his inability to do anything about them.
Memory haunts and heals the characters in Dancing at Lughnasa. who are are caught between the old, pagan Ireland, its old ways and the new restrictive and reluctantly modern land. They are also bound by memory, for what was and what never could have been.