‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ to open Friday
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 00:02
The Theatre Department at the University of Southern Mississippi is scheduled to open their first play of the semester this weekend with the Irish drama “Dancing at Lughnasa” by Brian Friel.
The play is directed by Alicia Hanley, a graduate student and the director of “Lysistrata” last semester. Despite having the same director, the plays could not be more different. While “Lysistrata” was a modern take on a Greek comedy, “Dancing with Lughnasa” is a more contemporary character drama originally shown in 1990.
The play is narrated by Michael, who takes the audience through a childhood memory of one summer in 1936 during the Celtic holiday of Lughnasa. While it does play into the story, the holiday is more of a backdrop for telling the story of Michael’s mother and her four sisters living together with their sick brother. The play centers around the family dealing with loss of jobs, getting older and baby daddies showing up out of the blue.
“I find the play very poignant,” said Moriah Whiteman, a first-year graduate student who plays the sister Agnes. “It’s very humors being a mundane story of five women working together, but it has a very heightened sense of life.”
While the holiday is not central to the story, the Irish setting is. Themes such as poverty, Catholicism, paganism and heritage add a lot of flavor to the characters. All of it helps to endear the characters to the audience, and a big part of that characterization is their cadence and accent which the actors portray to the best of their ability with the help of vocal coaches and tapes. While the quality of the accents vary, for the most part they are not particularly distracting by the end of first scene.
“This is one of the first times I’ve really come across a contemporary play where the language is so important,” said Derrick Phillips, a second year graduate student who plays Michael. “It took me awhile to get into the script, but once I noticed how it was written and how different characters have different punctuations add to the characters.”
While this is all set in Michael’s memory, he is not main character, nor is he a very active part of the story. Despite this, the nature of the story has helped inform the design of the play.
“The script itself is a mix of realism and memory,” said Bailey McClure, a second year scenic design graduate student. “What we wanted to do is make the outside area more of that memory and the inside of the house more realistic and more detail to represent the finer memories, the happier things that he remembers.”
While the drama of the family dynamics is a big part of the play, there are many moments of comedy as the characters try to cope with life’s troubles.
“I like this playwright,” said Louis Rackoff, head of the Master of Fine Arts program. “This is a very beautiful and poetic story that is very accessible. It’s a story about a family in love and a story of what keep them together and what pulls them apart.”
The play opens this Friday in the Tatum Theatre of Theatre and Dance Building and will have seven more showings, with the last being on March 2. For pricing information and a full list of showings, visit www.usm.edu/theatre/our-season.