Insightful writing, transcendent performances in Dramaworks' ‘Dancing at Lughnasa'

Review

Insightful writing, transcendent performances in Dramaworks' ‘Dancing at Lughnasa'

Jun 7 2013
Hap Erstein | Palm Beach Post

"In memory, atmosphere is more real than incident." So says Michael, the poetic narrator of "Dancing at Lughnasa" and alter ego of playwright Brian Friel, who recalls the hardscrabble life of his mother and her four spinster sisters who raised him in the Irish village of Ballybeg. He paints such vivid portraits of the Mundy women and their forlorn existence that it may only occur as an afterthought how little actually happens over the course of the play. ...Friel does a skillful job of delineating the sisters, and Palm Beach Dramaworks' resident director J. Barry Lewis has the benefit of a particularly strong ensemble of actors. As Maggie, Meghan Moroney clings to her stories and riddles as a defense against the tough realities, while Kate insists on the strictures of Catholicism. Gretchen Porro's Chris lives for the rare visits by Gerry (Cliff Burgess) and for her Fred-and-Ginger fantasies, while Aggie (Margery Lowe) sits and knits, barely repressing her own feelings for Gerry. And your heart will go out to slow-witted child-woman Rose (Erin Joy Schmidt), so ill-equipped for the perils of the world. The play belongs to the Mundy women, but John Leonard Thompson returns to Dramaworks with another intense performance as Uncle Jack, struggling with his re-emersion into Irish ways. As Michael, Declan Mooney handles the heavy lifting of the considerable narration, and does so affably. Drab is the unifying design element, from Brian O'Keefe's humble costumes to the cottage home provided by Jeff Modereger, but both are in character with the play. "Dancing at Lughnasa" is a portrait of downbeat lives, but a theatrical experience that is uplifting in its rich texture, insightful writing and transcendent performances. The verdict: Playwright Friel's memory play of the hard life of his mother and aunts, rendered well by a cohesive ensemble cast.