Ireland Dances Its Way to Skidmore in ‘Dancing in Lughnasa’

By Mia Merrill, Sports Editor The lughnasaSkidmore College Theater Department’s black box production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ opened Thursday, October 16. Brian Friel’s play explores the multifaceted relationships between five sisters and the secrets they keep in their rural Irish home. The production, directed by Marie Glotzbach, will run through Wednesday, Oct. 22.

Classified as a memory play, ‘Lughnasa’ is narrated by an adult Michael Evans as he reflects on his childhood in 1936 Ireland. Waves of social change crash onto Ireland and flood the Mundy household, where Michael lives with his mother, Chris, and his four aunts: Kate, Agnes, Maggie, and Rose. The older Michael observes his aunts and mother arguing about everything from folk dancing and harvest festivals to the whimsical but witless Gerry Evans, Michael’s oft-absent father. Meanwhile, the Mundy sisters observe a seven-year-old Michael, who spends the play decorating kites with pagan symbols.

Kate, played by Hallie Christine ’15, is the most pious of the sisters. She feels it is her responsibility to restore her Uncle Jack to his prior condition. David Bunce’s Jack, a priest who has spent much of life in a Ugandan leper colony, shocks Kate with his new pagan tendencies. Christine encapsulates the Irish-Catholic struggle that lives within Kate as she tries to keep her sisters on level ground.

All the actors in the production have worked to perfect their County Donegal accents, their Irish dancing, and of course, their characters’ emotions and desires. It’s understandable that the piece itself might not be initially appealing: it’s quite long, set in quite an isolated space that non-Irish may not know anything about, and its plot has little to do with punch-packing action. But ‘Lughnasa’ is a refreshing piece that really requires the audience to pay attention.

We must pay attention to the relationship between Alex Chernin ’15’s plucky Chris and Rebecca Zipursky ’15’s steadfast Agnes to see how love and loss can make or break a family. We must pay attention to Uncle Jack, and we, like the sisters, must not judge his expressions based on our own preconceptions. Our attention is demanded by Sierra Fritz ’17’s outstanding Rose, who makes us wonder how our attitudes towards special-needs people have and have not changed since 1936.

So why bring ‘Lughnasa’ to life in 2014 New York—a different world from 1936 County Donegal? Today, religious people struggle to maintain traditions in a progressive world. Unwed parents must combat lingering stereotypes and expectations. Children question the adults in their lives, and adults wrestle to remember the details of their adolescence. Friel’s piece may jump in time and chronology, but the questions he asks prove timeless.

 

‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ by Brian Friel, plays at the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard black box theater, October 16-22 at 8pm (Sunday matinee at 2pm). Starring John Noble Barrack ’15, David Bunce, Alex Chernin ’15, Hallie Christine ’15, Lily Donahue ’15, Sierra Fritz ’17, Patrick Stanny ’15, and Rebecca Zipursky ’15. Scenic design by Greer Duckworth ’15 and lighting design by Noah Samors ’15. Directed by Marie Glotzbach.

 

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