Two decades after its debut, the rueful beauty of the Irish drama “Dancing at Lughnasa” makes as great an impression as ever, especially when it has the kind of cast that Stage Door Players has assembled.
This memory play by Brian Friel, running through June 9 at Stage Door, was the toast of the 1992 Broadway season, winning the Tony Award for Best Play. Loosely based on Friel’s family, it’s narrated by Michael Evans (Travis Young), who looks back to when he was seven years old and the large brood lived in a small house in County Donegal in the summer of 1936. Kate Mundy (Ann Wilson) is a schoolteacher who isn’t much older than her four sisters but serves as a mother figure to them while Maggie (Gina Rickicki) tends to most of the household duties. Agnes (Erin Considine) is the quiet, introspective one of the clan, who knits to bring in money, along with Rose (Mary Saville), who has a developmental disability. Finally there’s Christine (Rachel Frawley), the youngest of the five sisters and the mother of Michael.
Rounding out the characters is Father Jack (George Deavours), the brother of the five women, who has come home after 25 years as a missionary and is ill, with a fading memory, and Gerry Evans (Jeremy Harrison), a salesman who fathered Michael with Christine. Times are tough and money is low, but the Mundys are excited about the upcoming Celtic harvest festival. And although all the women are unmarried, some of them at least seem to have romantic possibilities. Though she speaks badly of him, Christine is nonetheless optimistic about her future with Gerry. Rose, too, is seeing someone, although the sisters feel that she is being taken advantage of.
“Dancing at Lughnasa” has been called an Irish take on “The Glass Menagerie,” with its narrator looking back at his family. Yet while “Lughnasa” is rich in character, it’s not loaded in the way of conflict or drama, at least early on, and Act I can feel rather sluggish. It never quite takes off in this production.
As directed by Tess Malis Kincaid, though, “Lughnasa” eventually gels. One of the city’s leading actresses, she also directs on occasion; last season she helmed “Same Time, Next Year” at 7 Stages. “Lughnasa” needs a cast that feels at home with one another, and in that aspect Kincaid scores. If Young feels a little out of place, with a wavering Irish accent, the rest of the ensemble is spot-on. Deavours, who occasionally can overdo it as an actor, is subtly fine here, as is Harrison. But it’s the women who elevate this. The five Mundy sisters seem like a real family, interacting among themselves with telling looks and asides, hurt underneath their facades. Especially vivid are matriarchal Wilson and Rickicki, whose luminous smile spreads good cheer throughout the household and stage.
As time passes, some of the sisters move on and the family falls apart, as told to us by Michael. “Lughnasa” is a bittersweet play, not splashy but infused with humor and spirit — and in this case some swell acting, which brings out the melancholy mood it calls for.
Learn more about the award-winning run of this play here.