Cloaked in the dusky spiderwebs of memory, Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” follows five sisters struggling to survive in 1936 rural Ireland during in a time of change and transition challenging their perception of normality.
But memories — like spiderwebs — can be fragile and wispy … recalling what one wants to remember.
Currently on the Nebraska Wesleyan Miller Theatre stage, Friel’s play is set around the Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa — a period of feasting and dancing — and the Mundy sisters, who find the security of their Catholic beliefs challenged by the paganism of the festival and the changing mores of society.
Told through the remembrances of the son of one of the sisters, Michael (Ian Garthwaite), the sisters strive to maintain their family and the way of life to which they are accustomed. But their efforts at security seemed doomed to collapse.
Michael Reese’s fragmented and minimal set coupled with Rebecca Armstrong’s costume designs present a muted and earthy vision to supplement the dim twilight existence of the Mundy sisters.
But while there is adversity, the sisters are not casualties, they fight and love and most importantly dance with a vibrant spontaneity for life.
Director Joan Korte has cast a collection of actors who unabashedly throw themselves into the execution of the play. Performing with confidence and poise, the sisters — Kate (Natalia Spengler), Maggie (Cassie Hunt), Agnes (Mary Chambers), Rose (Cat Pestinger) and Chris (Jess Hrbek) — are more than accomplished in their portrayals. Especially pleasing are Spengler, Pestinger and Hunt, although on a couple of occasions some of Hunt’s lines were lost because of weak vocal projection.
In perhaps the most satisfying performance of the play, Case Guthrie as Father Jack Mundy, the sister’s missionary uncle who rejects Christianity to accept paganism, is simply most excellent.
“Dancing at Lughnasa” certainly has the trappings of sentimentality, but it also demonstrates the strength necessary for survival.