“Dancing at Lughnasa” promises beauty and loss within a family story

Photo courtesy of FIU Theater

By Jose Gil

It’s been 22 years since Brian Friel’s hauntingly beautiful “Dancing at Lughnasa” was last performed here at the University.

In 1996, the play was directed by the late, great Dr. Therald Todd, with this version set to be directed by the talented theater professor, Phillip Church.

The play will open on Feb. 23, coincidentally the same day as Therald Todd’s birthday.

Members of the original 1996 cast will be flying down from all over the United States to celebrate FIU’s revival of one of the most celebrated plays in the theater community.

“‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ isn’t your average play. It’s so special because it lacks a big plot. Instead we go through the daily lives of these characters and their struggles,” said Alexandra Hess, set designer for the production.   

The play is a drama that follows the lives of five Irish sisters – The Mundy’s – who must handle tough times in the 1930’s. It is told through the perspective of one of the sister’s (Christina) sons, Michael. As he recalls the events of his childhood, the play comes to life and the audience is brought into their world.

The set, which is comprised of a large cottage placed in the middle of the stage, will have the audience members seated in a arena style, on all sides of the stage. This way, not only will the performances draw us in, but will physically be integrated into their setting.

“It’s less about looking on-stage and more about being in the setting itself,” said Alexandra Hess, scenic design major.

The production consists of a small cast of mostly women. Considering they are playing  siblings, it is an understatement to say that the play will portray the emotional squabbles that family members go through.

Barely able to maintain their cottage, the sisters must give up their hopes and dreams in order to scrape by. Their emotions are constantly waiting to break through the dam that is their tough facade.

“The only way they can release this emotion is through dance,” said Rachel Willis, the dance captain for the production and the actress who portrays Christina Mundy.

Dancing is a key feature of the play. Each dance as Rachel Willis states, is filled with emotions and symbolism that explores the internal and external struggles these characters face.

The variety of dance influences signify the different emotions felt by the sisters. From the heartbreaking waltz shared by two partners to the gleeful irish jigs, audiences will be captivated by the movements of these characters.   

The play is an examination of lost and deferred dreams, of hoping for a better future, but most importantly: it’s a story about family. Director Phillip Church is interested in theater for social change. He prefers to put on plays that strive to send a message, and he states:

“Dancing at Lugnasa” is one of those plays that aims a message of humanity and what it is to live within the human condition and coming out of a difficult situation respecting each other.

A lesson that can definitely go a long way in today’s society.

Those interested in a very introspective, family life driven play filled with rich Irish poetry and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack would do very well to catch this performance.

The play will premiere on Feb. 23 and will run until March 4 at the Black Box in the Wertheim Performing Arts Center at FIU, by Blue Garage and the Frost Art Museum.

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