Dancing at Lughnasa | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Dancing at Lughnasa, Bog Theatre. Brian Friel's play captures a whole era in two days, in the lives of five unmarried sisters in a small Irish village of the 30s: the growing doom of the Depression, the effects of industrialization, the conflict between Christian and pagan cultures. But because Friel so clearly defines the Mundy sisters as individuals and as siblings, their pain and frustration are what move us: the personal becomes the political. Friel's play is intellectual, but first it's emotional and spiritual.

In Bog Theatre's staging the sisters lack strength and complexity. And they don't convey the rapport of family who've lived together in the same small house in the same rural county all their lives. For the most part the accents are hesitant and inconsistent, garbling some of the lines. Of the sisters, Annabel Armour as Kate--the eldest, a schoolteacher--gives the most stirring and heartfelt performance. Under David Cromer's direction, the others play too much on one level, missing some of Friel's poignant moments.

Ironically, since this is a very matriarchal play, it's the character of the brother--a missionary priest who's returned from Africa with malaria--who really lights up the stage. John Judd as Father Jack, a man near death who's both isolated from his sisters and his homeland and in touch with a higher spiritual consciousness, finds the richness in Friel's masterful paradox.

--Gabrielle S. Kaplan

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