Theatre Reviews

Dancing at Lughnasa, Tim McGuire Review

Dancing at Lughnasa  Seanachai Theatre

Produced by Seanachai Theatre Co.

Directed by Elise Kauzlaric

At The Irish American Heritage Center

An Irish Family Drama

Lead by a group of strong female performances Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa sucks you into the tense family drama of an Irish family. Dancing at Lughnasa is a dramatic tale that develops each individual sister through a story about the whole family. The well written dialogue and natural chemistry between the sisters brings you back in time to simpler existence with fewer options for women and common economic struggles that we can see today. The entanglement of dark drama and quirky personalities creates a tense endearing story about the lives of these 5 women.

Dancing at Lughnasa  Seanachai Theatre
A family of five sisters who although have the support of living with each other in their modest home in 1936 Ireland, feel alone and unfulfilled struggling to find joy and companionship. All five sisters are unmarried and devout Catholics, making acting respectable a conflict with finding happiness. Each sister does what they can to support their family, but the odds are stacked against them. The eldest sister loses her teaching job and the two other sisters loose their income from selling mittens when a large factory comes in to town beginning the industrial revolution in Ireland. The sisters are not alone in their house; Chris (Simone Roos) has a son out of wedlock. The boy Michael lives with them, and the emotional torment that the relationship with the father puts on Chris tears at the whole family. Through out the play music is a key element in the sister’s lives. Longing to dance at the Harvest Dance and listening to their radio, the sister’s loose themselves in vibrant wild dance and find joy remembering their playful youth, until the music stops. The constant overheating of the radio infuriates the girls and just hits home the disappointments and lack of stability in their lives. The return of their uncle Father Jack was not the celebration that they expected. The sisters’ hope for more respectability and an easier day to day style of living are quickly dashed away when it appears Father Jack is loosing his memory and slipping into insanity. Don Bender’s portrayal of Jack evolves with his character and once again he is one of my favorite actors to watch on stage.

Dancing at Lughnasa  Seanachai Theatre
All grown up and looking back on his family’s life this story is narrated to us through Michael. Kevin Theis has a strong presence on stage playing Michael. His compelling storytelling and acting as young Michael (whom is invisible to the audience) moves the plot along without taking a break from the action.

The setting of the play is unmistakably an Irish Catholic home. Designed by Alan Donahue the inside of the sisters’ home incorporates a cracked mirror still hanging on the wall to ward off the curse of 7 years bad luck, along with a beloved picture of Jesus over the fire place. The green nature of Ireland is on the left of the sisters’ home with a tall tree that is climbed upon and a grassy area for Michael to play and rituals to take place.
The characters in Friel’s story are so multidimensional that even though this play is well known, it connects with the audience every time. Dancing at Lughnasa is a gripping family story that is beautiful in its depth, and heart breaking in its honesty.


Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

At The Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue, Chicago IL, 3rd floor, playing through April 4th, tickets are $22-$26, call 866-811-4111 for tickets.

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