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Dancing At Lughnasa
August 23 - September 15$15
Dancing at Lughnasa, by Irish dramatist Brian Friel (1920-2015), will open Friday, August 23, 2019 at the Collaborative Theatre Project’s intimate performance space in the Medford Center. Written in 1990 but set in Ireland’s County Donegal in August,1936, the show is a memory play told from the point of view of Michael Evans. He recounts the summer spent in his aunts’ cottage when he was seven years old. Rick Robinson, Managing Director of Oregon Cabaret Theatre returns as a guest director to shape this stunning drama.
Dancing at Lughnasa runs from August 23 through September 15, 2019. The opening night includes a pre-show welcome with light snacks and drinks as part of the ticket price. Preview night is Thursday, August 22 and tickets are only $15.00 for that performance.
The play was originally produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, in 1990 and transferred to London’s National Theatre in 1991, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play. It won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination when it moved to Broadway. Since its’ premiere, it has been consistently revived and has been produced internationally, culminating in a 2015 National Tour (Ireland). Dancing at Lughnasa was adapted for a 1998 film version starring Meryl Streep as Kate Mundy and directed by Pat O’Connor.
Friel, likened to an “Irish Chekhov” has been described as the “universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared to those of such famous writers as Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams. In 1989 BBC Radio launched a Brian Friel Season, a six-play series devoted to his work. In 1999 his 70th birthday was celebrated in Dublin with the Friel Festival. In 2009 The Queen’s University of Belfast opened the Brian Friel Theatre and Centre for Theatre Arts. Friel was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the British Royal Society of Literature as well as a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.
Friel created the fictional town of Ballybeg and utilized it in many of his writings. Baile Beag is an Irish term that means “Little Town,” and it is in that little town that Friel’s gentle and lyrical world is born. His Ballybeg has often been compared to the village of Glenties, close to where he lived. Capturing the rich sounds and the northern Irish accent is vital to the creation of the world Friel’s characters live in. Assisting with the dialect work, Cheryl Joy Kline has helped the actors capture the inflections and nuances of the language.
Appropriately for the month of August, the title refers to Lugh, the old Celtic God of the Harvest. Irish history celebrated the first of August as La Lughnasa, the feast day of the pagan god. The days and weeks of harvesting that followed were called the Festival of Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-na-sa). Friel’s Ireland is a blend of Catholic mysticism and pagan celebration and this play blends those two worlds with power, pathos and joy. While it’s not a musical, there is dancing, and the lively Irish dance incorporated into the script has been choreographed by Valerie Rachelle.
Of his foray into the lyrical world of playwright Brian Friel, Robinson states that “the best plays are the ones that stick with you. Lughnasa was in a stack of plays that I looked at for CTP’s 2019 season, and, of all of them, Friel’s masterpiece burrowed a hole in my chest and stayed there – my connection to the work only growing deeper on second and third passes. Its characters are richly drawn, its setting authentic and the language poetic. It’s layered – a memory play that manages to be both ethereal and authentic. I’m really lucky to have such a great cast and design team, passionate about getting the details right so this feels like a living breathing world.”
The five Mundy sisters, whose story is the heart of Lughnasa, are actors Renee Hewitt (Kate), Haley Forsyth (Chris), Meagan Kirby (Agnes), Lisa-Marie Newton (Maggie) and Sarah Clausen (Rose). Kate is the eldest of the sisters and behaves as a mother figure. She is the sole wage-earner in the household, although Agnes, Maggie and Rose all take in knitting to pay the bills. The youngest sister, Christina has a child, Michael, out-of-wedlock and she lives for the day when Michael’s father Gerry (Paul Cosca) will return to claim his family.
Michael Evans, (Justin Waggle) the storyteller, is the adult presence who reconstructs his childhood and not only narrates but dictates the action as it goes on and reveals the futures of the other characters in the play. Father Jack (William Coyne) is a broken, despairing figure of man and has returned to his sisters after being sent back from Africa. Initially well respected in the town of Ballybeg, he has difficulty with his memory, often forgetting the names of his sisters or confusing them with his African servant, Okawa. His admiration for the pagan beliefs of the Africans leads the local diocese to regard him with suspicion which then transfers to Kate, who becomes concerned for the family’s reputation.
The play depicts a world that will soon be torn apart. The opening of a knitwear factory in the village has killed off the hand-knitted glove cottage industry; the village priest has told Kate that there are insufficient pupils for her to continue in her position for the next school year and Jack is failing both mentally and physically.
In spite of the fears for the future, the play is infused with love and passion and joy. And, as Robinson further states “a show like this requires a stellar ensemble cast, and I have the perfect collection of dreamers and perfectionists, dedicated to the work of finding the inner life of these wonderfully flawed people.”
Scenic design is by Nicholas Hewitt; Mike Kunkel creates the atmospheric lighting and sound elements; costumes are by Susan Aversa-Orrego and Diana Rasmussen. Dinah Greenfield is the stage manager.
As always, there is an exciting art exhibit in the CTP gallery. Curated by Diana Rasmussen, this exhibit features multiple artists and mediums. Organized by the group, 100 Days of Creativity, the gallery entrance will be alive with color and interested art to welcome you to venue. Some of the work of this group was installed during our prior production and new pieces have been added for this show.
Tickets range from $18-25 and are available online at www.CTPMedford.org or by calling the box office at (541) 779-1055. Group sales are available at a discount by contacting the theatre.
The complete performance schedule is below:
Thursday, August 22 – Preview – General admission tickets are $15.
Friday, August 23 – Opening night gala reception at 6:45, show at 7:30 pm
Thursdays, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm through September 14th.
Sunday matinees at 1:30 pm through September 15th.