“Dancing” on Solid Ground at NKU

Review by Spenser Smith of Dancing at Lughnasa at NKU

Dancing at Lughnasa, winner of the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play, is the story of five unmarried sisters living together in a small cottage in l936 Ireland. Rose (Amellia Gabrielle Adkins) and Agnes (Jessica Stafford) are the younger sisters eager to attend the Festival of Lughnasa, much to the dismay of Kate (Madison Pullins). It seems their only reprieve comes from the wireless radio, to which they dance and sing, and even that lets them down on occasion. This memory play is narrated through the eyes of Michael (Ben Eglian), the illegitimate son of Maggie (Anna Claire Hoots). He is only seven in 1936, the year his elderly uncle, Father Jack (Daniel King), returns home after serving twenty-five years as a missionary in a Ugandan leper colony. That summer Michael meets his father Gerry (Landis Helwig) for the first time. Gerry is charming to a fault and completely unreliable.

This play defines what it means to be an ensemble. No character gets a bigger feature than another and the story only stands because of our interest in the complex relationships of the sisters. Not much can beat the incredible performances featured in last seasons Grapes of Wrath, but this shuffles pretty close. There are fantastic performances (almost) all around. The story takes places in Ireland and dialect Coach Nicole Perrone (Welcome to NKU!) has fine-tuned the speech so that it serves the setting but we can still understand every word.

Congrats to Director Daryl Harris and his magnificent cast. Harris has assembled a wonderful group of actors and it is clear how much time was spent on storytelling. Without that, this play doesn’t exist. Harris’ thoughtful blocking makes the circular movements of the actors (the play is set in the round) look natural. Attention has also been paid to pace. The first act alone is an hour and a half, but it doesn’t leave us glancing at our watches. Ron Shaw’s minimalistic set was aesthetically fitting (visible screws and modern brackets aside) of the Mundy’s feeble means. Oh, and those wet props! Too often in theatre today we see actors pantomiming, or faking real actions with fake things (i.e. “drinking” from empty cups). Not in this production and it’s much appreciated. There were a few technical glitches on opening night, but nothing that surely hasn’t already been amended.

Dancing at Lughnasa continues at the Stauss Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 29.

For tickets, call 859-572-5464 or visit theatre.nku.edu.