BWW Interviews: Tess Malis Kincaid, Talented Cast Provide Bittersweet Connection in Stage Door's DANCING AT LUGHNASA
It is during life's most difficult times that families often most come together; such is the case in Brian Friel's 1992 Tony-winning play, "Dancing at Lughnasa." The powerful play tells the story of five poor Irish sisters struggling to live and love during the Depression, but despite their desperate circumstances, the family finds joy in dancing to the Irish folk music that intermittently plays on their unreliable radio. The show known as a drama infused with humor, runs May 17th-June 9th at Stage Door Players in Dunwoody, and is directed by three-time reigning Suzi Bass Award winner for Best Lead Actress in a Play, Tess Malis Kincaid (2010 Actor's Express' "Good Boys & True", 2011 the Alliance's "August: Osage County," and 2012 the Alliance's "Broke").
While the play takes place 75 years ago across the Atlantic, it explores a number of issues that might resonate with modern audiences; poverty, illness, and loss of faith, but it also focuses hope, family, and love as well.
The Mundy family won't look dissimilar to a family that has been through financial difficulties in our recent economic crisis, says Gina Rickicki, who plays the family joker, Maggie. "The idea of grasping for stability during difficult times," she said, "a lot of people are going through that right now. It is a very visceral touching point."
Anne Wilson, who plays eldest sister Kate, the family's primary bread-winner, says that nearly everyone can find a personal connection to this fictional family. "My own father grew up in the Depression in the Appalachian Mountains. So there is a very strong identification with my own family history to these women," Wilson said. "When you watch 'Dancing at Lughnasa,' you will see your mother, your sister, your aunt. It will remind you of your own particular family."
Despite the show's somber setting, the play is filled with music, dancing, and humor, all of which serve to lighten the family's dire circumstances, according to Kincaid. "That's the beauty of what Brian Friel did with the writing of this play," the director said. "You can be having so much fun, and then you get this little bit of information that makes it bittersweet. It's balanced so beautifully."
Travis Young, who is returning to Stage Door for the first time since appearing in 2001's "Go Back for Murder," believes that that bittersweet balance is what the play is all about. "It's a show about hope, it's a show about survival, it's a show about family, its a show about life and death," he said.
Young, who plays the show's narrator, an adult version of the family's young son and nephew Michael looking back on his childhood, probably has a better understanding of the show than most. In 2005, he appeared in Theatre Gael's production of the show as Michael's father Gerry.
The actor who played Michael in that production, Nevin Miller, helped provide Young the basics for his performance. "I remember his performance vividly. There were certain things that he did that were just right as acting choices," Young recalls. "So there are similarities, but other than those, my approach to the character goes in a completely different direction."
Kincaid, who is widely accepted as one of Atlanta's best actors, if not the best, has found a way to bring her actor's sensibility to her directing.
Wilson, who appeared with her director at the Horizon Theatre in 2001's "The Genes of Beauty Queens," says that Kincaid's understanding of the actor's process has been beneficial during rehearsals. "Working with Tess is terrific, because she is such a fine actor," Wilson said. "She recognizes that actors need time to process, so when she gives a note, she's not looking for an immediate result."
The actor-turned-director said that she is specifically drawn to slice-of-life character pieces, and that breaking down the script with the cast is the most rewarding aspect of the process. "With the directing I've done, I just adore table work. I love sitting around the table and fleshing out the language of a scene," she said.
In addition to the initial table-read, the cast would sit down and hash out each scene before going through its blocking, an approach that the cast appreciated. "The table work has been a joy to sit around with the actors and Tess and discuss each of the scenes and dig into the lives of these relationships," Rickicki said.
Kincaid is confident that the show's audiences will appreciate this special group of actors. "I think what the audience is going to see is some very gifted performers who are also very generous," she said. "I had such an embarrassment of riches that came to audition, let alone to have the good fortune of assembling such a talented group."
While Kincaid is developing her talents as a director, Atlanta theatre fans don't have to worry that she will give up the stage any time soon. "Directing is never going to take over my love of acting," she said. "Acting is first and foremost what I adore."
In addition to last summer's "Same Time, Next Year," this is Kincaid's second directorial effort with the Stage Door Players; a return she credits to the company's management. "I want to give kudos to Robert Egizio (Producing Artistic Director) and what he's done with Stage Door," she said. "I think he's really raising the bar with the company and has lifted their artistic integrity over the last few years."
Despite the distant, historical setting, Wilson said that "Dancing at Lughnasa" is a story to which anyone can relate. "This is a very human story," she said. "It is a story centered on family, love, and connection."
"Dancing at Lughnasa" opens May 17th and runs through June 9th. Get your tickets by calling 770-396-1726 or by visiting Stage Door Players website.
Photo Credit: Stage Door Players