Dancing at Lughnasa | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Dancing at Lughnasa

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Dancing at Lughnasa, Shapeshifters Theatre Company, at the Irish American Heritage Center. Households comprised of unmarried women have often beguiled playwrights, symbolizing as they do (or did at one time) the melancholy prospect of potential deferred. But in Brian Friel's account of a family crisis in 1936, during the pagan festival of Lughnasa, this gloomy theme isn't immediately apparent.

Indeed, as the play opens the Mundys seem to be doing quite well: Kate teaches school, Maggie raises poultry, Rose and Agnes knit garments to be sold in a village shop. But Gerry, the father of Chrissy's young son, Michael, hasn't married her, and brother Jack has been ordered home from Uganda, ostensibly to recover from an illness he contracted as a missionary there. As the true reasons for Jack's return become apparent, we see that in Africa, as in Ireland, the battle between ancient ways and Christian doctrine makes for considerable tension.

Brad Armacost directs a capable cast for this Shapeshifters production. Morgan McCabe, Vera Kelly, Lori Myers, Martha Murphy, and Kristen Williams give the Mundy sisters distinct personalities and a resolute grace. Bill O'Neill as Jack likewise reflects a doomed dignity, as does Tim Smith as the wayward Gerry, while Eamonn McDonagh lends presence to the adult Michael, the play's narrator. High honors are also due the Shapeshifter technical team for their incredible replica of a crowded rural cottage despite an oversize stage.

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