‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ at Quotidian Theatre Company by Natalie McCabe

Quotidian Theatre Company’s Mission Statement reads, in part, “By providing realistic situations and dialogue, we want to give the audience the impression that they are witnessing events over a backyard fence or through an open window.” Their mission is accomplished once again as audiences are presented with childhood impressions seen through the ‘window’ of a grown man’s memories in Quotidian’s beautiful production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Director Craig Alan Mummey lovingly directs an exceptional cast, and everyone shines.

Standing: Doug Krehbel, Stephanie Mumford, and Steve LaRocque. Seated: Rebecca Ellis, Leah Mazade, and Laura Russell. Below: Alyssa Sanders. Photography by Audrey Cefaly.
In Dancing at Lughnasa, Michael, now grown, played by a warmhearted David Dubov, recalls the events of 1936, during the pagan festival of Lughnasa (literally, the month of August in Irish), when he was seven years old. His unwed mother, Chris Mundy (a youthful and sensitive Rebecca Ellis), and her four equally unwed but childless sisters, live together in rural County Donegal, Ireland. Kate (a tough but sensitive Leah Mazade), the eldest and the only sister with a set income through her job as a teacher at the parish school, struggles bravely in her role as head of the household.
Above: Stephanie Mumford and Below: Leah Mazade. Photo by Audrey Cefaly.

Maggie (Stephanie Mumford), the humorous jokester of the Mundy sisters with natural red, curly hair, is the only sister who is honest enough for Kate to confide in about the family’s true situation. Mumford gives a lighthearted portrayal filled with uninhibited dancing. Laura Russell’s sweet, shy Agnes provides the only maternal streak evident among the sisters, even as she barely holds it together herself  And then there’s Rose, (an uninhibited Alyssa Sanders), who struggles to be an adult even as her childlike mind sets her apart from the others.

Father Jack, the sisters’ brother (played by a candid Steve LaRocque) returns home after 25 years away as a missionary in Africa  – and can no longer be contained by the strict Catholicism woven tightly into Irish culture; it quickly becomes obvious that the aged priest has not, cannot, come home to live. Gerry, (a charming Doug Krehbel) is Michael’s father and Christina’s love – but never her husband. He pops in from time to time, his unpredictable visits are a source of tension in the entire household. The entrance of men into the “women’s space” of the home disrupts the sisters’ lives in ways none can foresee, a familiar theme in Irish theatre.

As with many of Friel’s plays, this takes place in – or, rather, just outside of – the fictional town of Ballybeg, which, in Irish, translates as “baile beag,” or “small village.” Small it is indeed – the sisters leave their homestead infrequently, and family life centers around the small kitchen and its unpredictable wireless radio. But when the radio fills the home with Celtic music and the sisters begin to dance – the joy is infectious. The entrance of men into the “women’s space” of the home disrupts the sisters’ lives in ways none can foresee, a familiar theme in Irish theatre.

Doug Krehbel and David Dubov. Seated: Rebecca Ellis. Photo by Audrey Cefaly.

Various design elements combine to create a homey – and very Irish feel. Detailed set and properties design by Craig Alan Mummey and Sonya Okin, respectively, craft a much-lived in home and outdoor space. Don Slater’s lighting design casts a subtle green hue over the set and costumes at times, reminding us, if the accents didn’t, that we are in rural Ireland, where life survives by using distinctive humor to compete with the equally distinctive stench from turf fires.

Quotidian Theatre Company’s Dancing at Lughnasa will bring a bittersweet smile to your lips and a warm feeling to your heart.

Dancing at Lughnasa plays through May 20, 2012 at Quotidian Theatre Company at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. To reserve tickets, call the box office (301) 816-1023. Information about emailing the theatre for tickets can be found here.


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