Dramaworks' Dancing At Lughnasa Is Slow Sweet Elegy

Review

Dramaworks' Dancing At Lughnasa Is Slow Sweet Elegy

May 25 2013
Bill Hirschman | Florida Theater On Stage

...The tale is told in flashback by the grown narrator Michael Mundy, who then was a seven-year-old child born out of wedlock to one sister and is being raised by the five women as one. The play focuses on crucial days in late summer when events will unravel their lives. There are no spoilers for Friel; it's thematically essential that Michael reveal to us bit by bit what the characters cannot see coming: disillusionment, shattered dreams, poverty, illness and death. Friel wants us to cherish what few joys we have while we have them, above all the blessings of family. Michael seems to yearn to hug his long-dead loved ones because their loss reminds him how we don't appreciate life as we are living it, as Wilder warned us in Our Town. Under J. Barry Lewis' brilliant direction of an inspired pitch-perfect cast, establishing the tone, mood, characters and relationships is more important than creating a driving narrative... ...If you are familiar with the play, you know there is a celebrated scene in which the sisters join in an impromptu dance to a tune on the radio. In the hands of Lewis, this cast and choreographer Lynnette Barkley, it is an undiluted triumph. Having spent a half-hour of stage time depicting their repressed gloom, each sister, one by one, issues a feral scream from their guts and erupts into an individual idiosyncratic dance. But it's not their abandoned movement that rips the play open because other than the surprisingly graceful Agnes, they're not agility personified. What overwhelms is the expressions on their faces that depict an explosion of long-suppressed passion. While that passion is mostly frustration and even sorrow, there is such joy in its finally being unleashed to exorcise the pain. It's thrilling. Once again, a cast under Lewis' direction gives lessons in acting. In this case, class, notice how they listen intently to what is happening elsewhere in the scene even when they have no dialogue. See how they silently react, without calling attention to themselves, to what is being said by other characters. Watch how doggedly they focus on knitting, ironing, slicing bread while soaking in what is occurring around them, even when – especially when – they are in shadow and featured characters are interacting in the lights on the other side of the stage. While they all excel in this, Lowe's face perpetually communicates the range of pain and pleasure simmering under the surface. ...As always, Dramaworks technical crew is among the finest in the region including Brian O'Keefe's costumes, Ron Burns' lighting, Steve Shapiro's sound design and choice of music and James Danford's stage management. A special shout out is due to Dramaworks newcomer Jeff Modereger for his evocative design of the Mundy's modest time-worn brick-and-plaster cottage, side yard and garden with its prematurely autumnal trees.