Irish dancing and drama


The performers dance to traditional Irish music. [Photo courtesy of Chuck Zovko, Communications Division]

Theater department brings challenging play to Lafayette with mixed results

The Lafayette Theater Department brought the 1990 award winning Irish play “Dancing at Lughnasa” to the Williams Center for the Arts main theater last Wednesday. The play, recounting the events of the summer of 1936 in a cottage in Donegal County, was perhaps a bit ambitious for a college play. The slow pacing and the complicated narrative make it a challenging show to pull off, and though the Theater Department brought forth a solid effort, the performance could not prevent the show from, at times, feeling a bit dry.

The play centers around the five Mundy sisters, Kate (Trudyann Buckley ’15), Agnes (Maggie Frodell ’15), Maggie (Nikelia Haines ’15), Christina (Emma Glubiak ’18) and Rose (Meryl Hahne ’18), as they cope with the passage of their youths and the changes their town undergoes, all while fighting off the specter of poverty. With the homecoming of their brother Jack (Danny Guadalupe ’16) from Uganda, where he served for 25 years as a doctor, as well as the return of Christina’s deadbeat lover Gerry Evans (Randall Goldfarb ’16), the sisters have to learn to cope with all the changes his return brings.

The story, told from the point of view of Christina’s illegitimate son Michael (Joseph Rothschild ’16), does not follow a single narrative as much as it is a series of conversations about events surrounding the household and the town. Very little happens on stage, and Michael often is the one to tell us about major story developments.

The challenge from a narrative perspective is that, like many Irish playwrights, writer Brian Friel relies very heavily on dialog, eschewing the classical wisdom of “show don’t tell.” As such, there is very little action onstage, placing the burden of carrying the play entirely on the actors. The director does comparatively little, and the play suffered somewhat from the lack of compelling events happening onstage.

Where the Theater Department really shone was in the presentation—the setting was gorgeous, the costumes beautiful and the performances were all very solid. The sky in the background was a particularly beautiful part of the set, dynamically changing color with the time of day. There was more action in the sky than in the play. The entire cast worked hard to put on accurate Irish accents, which they maintain impeccably throughout the performance. When there is action onstage the director, Michael O’Neill, brilliantly arranges the cast for the biggest visual impact he can get. It is a beautiful and melancholy show, with the presentation perfectly fitting the tone the story tries to communicate.

Overall, a good effort by the Theater Department at trying to tackle one of the more challenging plays to perform for a college audience. The slow pacing and complicated plot make it at times difficult to sit through, but it is worth seeing for the beautiful scenery and solid acting. Nevertheless, the Theater Department may wish to seek out less dialog-heavy scripts in the future to better showcase their talents.