Review - Dancing at Lughnasa & Jason Graae's Perfect Hermany

"Atmosphere is more real than truth," explains Michael Evans, the narrating character recalling his childhood days in Brian Friel's thickly atmospheric Dancing At Lughnasa, now enjoying a warm and lovely mounting by Charlotte Moore at the Irish Rep.

Though we only see Michael through the philosophically aloof performance of Ciaran O'Reilly, his seven-year-old presence, invisible to the audience, is bathed in affection by his mother and the four aunts he grew up with in the fictional town of Ballybeg in Ireland's County Donegal. He may have been in the midst of a happy childhood during the summer of 1936, but as an adult he can recognize the sadness in the lives of his mother and aunts, all unmarried, as they struggle to keep up with an ever-changing world. Their spirits can be ethusiastically risen, though, when their unreliable radio, which they've named Marconi, sees fit to blare out a hit tune or a tradition Irish folk song, setting forth an improvisation of joyous dance.

Loosly based on the lives of Friel's own family, the play takes place during the harvest festival of Lughnasa. Antje Ellermann set contrasts the splender of the local landscape with the modest cottage with well-worn furnishings the sisters share.

Michael's mother, Chiris (sweetly played by Annabel Hagg), lives for the sporatic visits from her child's father, Gerry (Kevin Collins), a former ballroom instructor turned traveling gramaphone salesman, whose latest scheme to seek adventure makes it clear that he has no intention of settling down with her. Gerry has also attracted the affections of Agnes (Rachel Pickup), whose quiet longing for him is especially touching when they share a dance.

Agnes makes a modest living knitting gloves with the mentally challenged Rose (Aedin Moloney, showing irresistible optimistic passion); a business threated by the upcoming arrival of a new knitwear factory. Rose, though, is happily under the spell of a married man who she's convinced is in love with her.

The hearty Maggie (Jo Kinsella) runs the household while schoolteacher Kate (Orlagh Cassidy) is the primary breadwinner. Cassidy is excellent, showing the tender caring under Kate's stern exterior. Michael Countryman is colorful and amusing as their brother, Father Jack, who has returned from missionary work in Uganda with some very un-Catholic notions about life and whose presence threatens Kate's position.

While there are great personal tragedies in store for the grownups in Michael's life, Friel never treads into Heavy Drama. The play emphasizes the simple everyday events that separate home and family from the threats of the outside world, and Moore and her ensemble do a very fine job of displaying both the supportive sisterhood and hints of the perpetual sadness underneath.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Orlagh Cassidy, Aedin Moloney, Jo Kinsella, Michael Countryman, Rachel Pickup and Annabel Hagg; Bottom: Ciaran O'Reilly.

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It was bad enough when the Dodgers and the Giants ditched town for California, but whatever has lured Jason Graae to make the left coast his home base has robbed Gotham of a gifted musical theatre clown who, thankfully, does pop into town from time to time.

Honoring Jerry Herman in this year of his 80th birthday, Perfect Hermany, (which just ended a brief run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe) isn't so much a retrospective of the man himself, but more of an anecdotal party where the host elicits hearty guffaws with tales ranging from his first, unsuccessful, audition for the great composer/lyricist to his being asked to premiere a revised edition of the underappreciated The Grand Tour.

With music director/arranger John Boswell at piano (Lee Tannen directs), Graae begins the festivities on the oboe, as the two duet a little overture that brings out some of the klezmer qualities of La Cage aux Follies' title song and lets us savor the beautiful melody of Dear World's "I've Never Said 'I Love You.'" Even before the music begins, Graae has the audience in stitches miming the classic "Can he really play that?" routine. The answer is "yes," but when he pulls out a portable floor and changes shoes for "Tap You Troubles Away," the joke is that he's barely moving his feet, despite the Ann Miller attitude.

It's that mock bravado and tongue-in-cheek shameless showmanship that makes Graae so darn funny, particularly when he's doing things like going out into the audience to chat up notables while singing, "You I Like," or turning to Ron Raines, who was at a front table the night I attended and crooning, "Follies will never go away again."

But Graae can be charmingly serious as he slips into a Polish/Jewish accent for a pairing of the gorgeous "Marianne" and the impishly humorous "Mrs. S.L. Jacobowsky" from The Grand Tour, and emphatically impassioned in his superb "I Don't Want To Know." Presenting "I Am What I Am" in the context of honoring recent victims of bullying is a moving choice making his defiant performance all the more heart-breaking.

Graae stays away from Herman's comic material (none of the very funny songs from Parade) but instead cleverly injects humor into more innocent material. Late in the evening a terrific medley begins as he pretends to be annoyed that a waiter hasn't passed down his drink refill. He anxiously sings, "Where's that boy with the vodka?," before launching into an angry, "Wherever He Ain't." When the large, stony-faced server finally arrives, Graae tries smoothing things out with a bit of "Bosom Buddies."

He ventures back out into the audience for a sing-along of the big number - you know the one I mean - surprising customers who suddenly find a microphone aimed at them. And though he quipped "very close" after I tried locating the key while singing "never go away," Perfect Hermany had me once again wishing that Jason Graae would never go away again.

Photo by Jennifer Broski.

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"Every actor is somewhat mad, or else he'd be a plumber or a bookkeeper or a salesman."
--Bela Lugosi


Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bela_lugosi.html#ixzz1cOddf8il

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/30/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: RELATIVELY SPEAKING (1.2%), CHINGLISH (1.1%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (0.8%),

Down for the week was: BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-13.7%), MEMPHIS (-13.3%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-11.4%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (-10.6%), FOLLIES (-10.2%), MARY POPPINS (-10.1%), ROCK OF AGES (-8.9%), THE MOUNTAINTOP (-7.3%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-7.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-6.5%), SISTER ACT (-5.5%), MAN AND BOY (-5.4%), ANYTHING GOES (-4.8%), CHICAGO (-4.5%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-4.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.8%), GODSPELL (-1.0%), WICKED (-0.9%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.3%), MAMMA MIA! (-0.1%),




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