BWW Review: Mustard Seed Theatre's Bittersweet DANCING AT LUGHNASA
Parts of playwright Brian Friel's DANCING AT LUGHNASA are joyous, and some are unsettling, mainly because we come to care so much about the Mundy family that inhabits it. I personally found it fascinating and disturbing at the same time. It's that dichotomy that drives the action, and it provides no easy answers for the viewer. I actually like that aspect. Because life isn't a bed of roses for most of us, instead it's a journey where obstacles pop up, sometimes unexpectedly, forcing us to constantly adapt and change, or risk being steamrolled by circumstance. Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting this engrossing play as they close their tenth season, and it's a production well worth your time and attention. Go see it!
The Mundy family lives just outside of Ballybeg, in the county of Donegal, Ireland in 1936. It's a time when the industrial revolution is making life more and more difficult for these impoverished people. It's only a matter of time before the hand knitted gloves that sisters Agnes and Rose produce to provide additional income will be replaced by machines. And, the arrival of Father Jack, a missionary who was sent home because he had "gone native," disrupts the household when the gainfully employed Kate suddenly finds herself without a job because of his presence, even though other reasons are given by those in charge. Their only true moments of happiness occur when their balky radio, nicknamed "Marconi", springs to life and they dance with wild abandon. But, much like their opportunities, the radio is prone to stopping, suddenly and without warning.
Kelley Weber provides a steady presence within the household as Maggie, who tries to maintain a pleasant atmosphere with her joking and singing, despite the obstacles that the family faces. Michelle Hand delivers a wonderful performance as Rose, a woman whose childlike mental state has her believing the advances of a married man are forthright in nature. Jennifer Theby Quinn is outstanding as Chris, tending to chores around the house while raising a son conceived out of wedlock. Leslie Wobbe is also quite good as Agnes, who yearns for something more from life. Amy Loui impresses as the devout Kate, at odds with the more pagan influences that Father Jack provides, and determined to do what she can to keep the family afloat. Richard Strelinger is a perfect cad as the father of Chris's son, Michael, popping in and out her life with promises that will never be fulfilled. Gary Glasgow imbues the ailing Father Jack with addled sensibilities that find him continually searching for words that fail him, due to his illness and 28 years spent abroad. Jim Butz brings a necessary somber edge to his role as the narrator; the now grown up Michael.
Gary Barker's thoughtful direction brings forth lively work from this stellar ensemble. Kyra Bishop's scenic design is splendidly conceived, and nicely lit by Michael Sullivan, capturing the atmosphere with considerable aplomb. Jane Sullivan's costumes neatly conjure up the period, and Nancy Bell's excellent work as dialect coach ensures that the accents on display never get in the way of the dialog. The Irish dance choreography of Helen Gannon, and assistant KT Elliot enlivens the proceedings, and Zoe Sullivan's sound design provides the perfect musical selections.
Mustard Seed Theatre's production of DANCING AT LUGHNASA is a bittersweet tale buoyed by strong performances that make us care deeply about the plight of these characters. The show continues through April 30, 2017.