March 16-22, 2006
Arts : TheaterSibling Revelry
Director Aaron Posner gets the mix right at the Arden Theatre Company, though sometimes we glimpse the wizard behind the curtain.
The five sisters Friel portrays in Lughnasa (LOO-na-sa, an annual harvest celebration) are played by skilled actors Megan Bellwoar, Jennifer Childs, Grace Gonglewski, Mary McCool and Suzanne O'Donnell, who blend seamlessly as an impoverished 1936 family commune. They pine for husbands, care for addled older brother Jack (Russell Leib), dote on Chrissy's 7-year-old son Michael (voiced by Tony Lawton, who narrates as adult Michael) and share vicariously in Chrissy's doomed relationship with Michael's easy-come, easy-go father, Gerry (charming Scott Barrow).
Chrissy (McCool) puts her life on hold waiting for Gerry to grow up and marry her; Kate (Bellwoar) earns the household's only wages as a schoolteacher; Agnes (O'Donnell) shepherds weak-minded Rose (Childs) and keeps house; and Maggie (Gonglewski) clowns to hide an aching heart.
Friel, through ghostly Michael (who as a child is a disembodied voice, and as an adult wanders unseen, pointedly studying his mother and aunts), reveals a brief spring of happiness poised just before the fragile family's collapse, "a breach between what seemed to be and what was." The play recounts blissful dancing to Irish music that blares from the unreliable Marconi radio, eking dinner from three eggs and spices and dreaming of better daysthen juxtaposes these delicate moments with blunt narration about imminent upheavals.
Posner's production succeeds in creating everyday pleasantness underscored by choked-back desperation, aided by Lewis Folden's glorious scenic design and John Stephen Hoey's lighting, which contrast the sisters' homey kitchen with the vast Irish sky. Karin Graybash's sound design, featuring relentlessly sawing Irish fiddles, seems forced, as do the sisters' boisterous jigs; the production's truthfulness emerges best in tiny glances, as when the sisters spy as smooth-talking Gerry seduces Chrissy yet again and McCool wordlessly reveals that she can't resist, though she knows how it will end.
Dancing may represent the heart's need for freedom in Friel's play, but these women's hearts eloquently cry out for something more.
DANCING AT LUGHNASA Through April 2, Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., 215-922-1122 or www.ardenttheatre.org