Through October 15
DANCING AT LUGHNASA Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
Listen carefully to your family stories and compare them to your own memories of events.
Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” is a look at a disintegrating family in a rural Irish town in 1936, a world ramping up to war and an Irish society dealing with its own demons and the powerful dead hand of the conservative and clerical under Taoiseach or Prime Minister Eamon de Valera, who put the Catholic Church so in control that control has only eroded in very recent years.
Michael (Patrick Galligan) is the center of the story, a seven-year-old being raised by his mom and her four sisters, all supported by Aunt Kate (Fiona Byrne), teacher in a church-controlled state school.
There’s also Uncle Jack (Peter Millard), a priest who has spent a quarter of a century as a missionary in Africa in a leper colony, where he has clearly gone native.
Mom Christina (Sarena Parman) has to deal with wandering father Gerry (Kristopher Bowman), who occasionally wanders in with his latest fantastic scheme, whether going to Spain in the International Brigades to fight the Fascist alliance of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini overthrowing the elected government and he also sells record players.
Gerry has a tendency to promise things, especially for Michael.
As an adult, Michael tells the story as it all falls apart in his memory.
What’s different in this depressing story is that director Krista Jackson makes this a little more humorous than most productions I have seen, effectively using comic skills of the cast, particularly Aunt Maggie (Tara Rosling).
Clearly the director sees some humor or laughter as an antidote to keep everyone from a breakdown.
The sisters fight about life and whether or not to go to community dances and what to do about Uncle Jack whose increasingly bizarre stories of life back in Africa leave the family confused and a little worried about why the priest was sent back to Ireland, without the usual publicity of a long-term missionary.
Michael appreciates the love of his mother and his aunts while a little unclear about Gerry and his promises.
This story isn’t headed toward a happy ending, instead heading into mystery and confusion as the village priest punishes Kate for her uncle by firing her from her teaching job.
Sisters disappear and Father Jack dies.
Michael’s tale of what happened to Gerry is something of a backstory to the entire plot.
Director Jackson is working with a really strong cast, with not a weak spot although a couple of the sisters are really spear carriers.
Galligan, Millard, Parman and Byrne make this tale of family history and tragedy entertaining enough for “Dancing at Lughnasa” to be worth seeing.
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