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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Theater review: Irish play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' is like clockwork

culture@dailylobo.com

“Dancing at Lughnasa” is a delightfully striking play, however, one that makes many fascinating choices.

The most arresting aspect of the play is the frame story and the way the events are presented. A sort of Irish ode to the “The Glass Menagerie,” “Dancing at Lughnasa” is the family memoir of Michael Evans, an adult looking back at the summer of 1936, when he was seven. It is set in the family home of the five Mundy sisters: his mother and four aunts.

The events within the narrative are tight, taking place over only the space of two afternoons, three weeks apart, set as the first and second acts. The memory is irregularly paused and encroached by the adult Michael Evans, played by Paul Hunton.

The sisters interact with the young Michael by miming their hair-tussles and embraces on an invisible child while Hunton leans to the side and speaks the simple words of his seven-year-old self.

Mostly, he colloquially monologues about context and events beyond the scope of the single house in an effective flash in time. They have a personal tone, like an intimate story more than pure information, having details of the family and diverge like a well-worn family anecdote.

The pieces are rare, considerable and ramble somewhat. Although they become truly compelling when Michael emerges for the penultimate time to zoom into the future, describing the death, misfortune and truth that would occur decades later and then places you back in the prophetic calm before the storm, all the more heavy as the inevitable future tragedy.

The Irish accents overall are not bad at all, some being exceptional, the worst being simply faint and indistinct.

Bridget S. Dunne’s stage presence as Agnes is always enjoyable, from her bright voice to her subtle, adroit nonverbals scattering her performance.

Jennifer M. Lloyd-Cary plays Chris, Michael’s mother. Lloyd-Cary does something many actors struggle with: she portrays love and joy naturally and with truth. Such powerful emotion often shows as false or rigid, but Lloyd-Cary’s exploration of these feelings is beautiful to behold.

Much of the contentious events revolve around the character of Gerry, Michael’s father, played by Jeremy Gwin. Gerry is likely intended to be charming and charismatic, but Gwin performances him stiffly as a fraud. Gerry seems to light loins aflame wherever he goes, but it’s hard to sort out why.

Lacey Bingham is welcome as the eldest, somewhat domineering aunt, Kate, whose accent is certainly faint and whose character’s sudden, emotional leaps border on mania.

Andrea Haskett does well, adding heady contemplation to the difficult performance of Rose, the aunt with some undefined developmental disability.

William Lang gives a muted performance as Father Jack, both in the sense of volume and emotion. Lang portrays his character as delicate and remote, but he is often vague and difficult to hear.

Heather Lovick-Tolley is amusing as the bombastic and kooky Aunt Maggie. Lovick-Tolley is big in everything she does, getting most of the best lines. Her character reaches a crazed climax when she smashes flour on her face and cackles, screaming like a lunatic emblazed in a maddened cocaine frenzy.

There is something about the movement and rhythm of the play which speaks to directorial control. There is an exactness of precision to everything that is done and said. Even in the moments of chaos, there is always a sense that nothing is accidental or without specifics. The actors move from picture to picture, some more exact than others.

It could be described as consistent clockwork or a wooden sterility, depending on your taste.

Just as long as it keeps you awake.

The problem with the Adobe Theatre is that it’s a safe theatre that does safe plays.

A firm, geriatric audience base guarantees the house is always packed, and almost entirely inactive A fun game to play is to look around and see how many spectators simultaneously seem asleep, only to be prodded awake by their wives.

I counted four.

BOX

Dancing At Lughnasa by Brian Friel Directed by Leslee Richards Part of the Southwest Irish Theatre Festival The Adobe Theater 9813 Fourth Street NW Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.

Runs through April 27

$15 general, $13 students and seniors For more information call 898-9222 or visit adobetheater.org