Dancing at Lughnasa

In the small, intimate setting of BYU’s Margetts Theatre, the small, intimate play “Dancing at Lughnasa” is performed with warmth, humor and emotion.

Directed by Tim Threlfall, the play is the story of five sisters struggling through life in 1930s Ireland, as told by one of the sisters’ illegitimate son. Michael (David Raphael D’Agostini), now grown, serves as narrator, occasionally interacting with his mother and aunts, but mostly just observing.

Each of the sisters faces heartache and pain. Most notable is Michael’s mother Chris (Jannah Ferguson), who is very much in love with the slick, smooth-talking Jerry (James Royce Edwards), the father of her child. She’s in heaven when he’s around and miserable when he’s gone — yet she knows if she were to marry him, he’d only run off on her again.

In the meantime, Agnes (Carrie Lopez) and the slightly dim-witted Rose (Merilee Louthain) knit gloves for a living. Hard-working Agnes has never really known love (though she seems to have a thing for Jack), while Rose thinks she is in love with a man in town whose wife recently left him. Matriarchal sister Kate (Dianna Lynne Errico) thinks the whole thing is a bad idea, however.

Kate thinks a lot of things are bad ideas, in fact, and she usually turns out to be right. A prim schoolteacher and a staunch Catholic, she doesn’t approve of her sisters’ wild dancing and constant use of the radio, nor does she like the way her priest brother Jack (Marc E. Shaw), just back from Africa, seems to have adopted the “pagan” ways of the natives.

There is little in the way of plot in this play, but plenty of emotion and feeling. Music and dancing serve as metaphors for life’s pure joys: often fleeting and too short, but always good for lifting one’s spirits when things are tough.

This production glances over the heartaches of Maggie (Elary Allen) and Kate, but they’re there if you pay attention: Plain-looking Maggie’s childhood friend has married the boy SHE loved, and the fellow Kate was after marries someone else early in the second act. Five sisters, five heartaches, one radio.

All of the acting here is quite good, and the Irish accents are convincing — a little TOO convincing at times, as the words occasionally become unintelligible. Errico is particularly good as the outwardly strong Kate, and Lopez has a quiet dignity about her as Agnes. Edwards is a bit too smarmy as Jerry, and his “Wow-wow!” catchphrase becomes annoying after only one or two uses — but he provides strong contrast to Ferguson’s sweet and loving Chris.

Again, this is a play about characters and feelings, without a lot of action. Fortunately, the characters come alive thanks to strong performances and solid directing. Everyone can relate to at least one of the five sisters in one way or another, and that connection drives home the message of hope and determination.

The Margetts Theatre at BYU is small and intimate, but it is also very hot. Also, the seats are non-permanent chairs that get moved around to different places for different productions, and they're not very comfortable. Add to this a play that is over two hours and doesn't have much going on in it, and you've got the makings for a swell night. In my case, I was also sick, which didn't help any. Nor did the two girls sitting next to me, one of whom never seemed to know what was going on and needed to have the other one explain it to her. "Dancing at Lughnasa" is not a particularly complicated play, but it seemed to be beyond the grasp of this girl. And the stuff she didn't get was usually obvious, too. Like the play would say, "And this character is my father," and she would say to her friend, "Who's that guy?" Oh, and of course she had Doritos during the second act, which she tried to eat quietly, but you know THAT'S an impossible task with Doritos.

All in all, I didn't enjoy this show much. But I didn't know if it was because I'd seen it before (at Pioneer Theatre Company), or because I was sick, or because of the theater, or because of the girls next to me. So to give the play the benefit of the doubt, I went easier on it in the review than I initially wanted to, just because I wasn't sure what had made me not like it.

See? I do try to be fair.