Dancing at Lughnasa brings comedic misfortune to NAU stage


Members of the NAU Theater Department perform in Dancing at Lughnasa, a memory play set in 1936. (Photo by Kelsey Jordan)

A stone wall curves upstage framing a small kitchen. The fireplace, sink and various pieces of wooden furniture are vacant as four silhouettes melt into their shape, mimicking their still life forms.

A deep voice comes from the airwaves behind and a figure slowly appears from the shadows. Narrating his fond memories of living with his mother and aunts in a small Ireland village during the summer of 1936, Michael, played by Zanden Hogrelius, captivates the audience within the first few seconds. Hogrelius’ Irish accent is thick as he offers a welcome on this journey with him, back when the lines were crossed between “what seemed to be and what was”.

Dancing at Lughnasa centers around the lives of five middle aged sisters anticipating the changes of the Industrial Revolution and mending to their ill brother, Jack, played by Travis Marsala. Lughnasa offers a trivial approach at life’s realities when girls just want to have fun.

The story of the five Mundy sisters weaving through each other’s lives as quickly as they dance through the kitchen is told with grace and maturity. One moment sister Agnus, played by Veronica Ancona, is knitting solo at the center table, and the next light-hearted Margaret, played by Allison Ritter, has all of them dancing and shrieking in laughter.

“It’s a story about humanity; what it is to have joy in your life. It’s kind of sad but it’s about life and family,” Director and NAU Theatre Department Chair Kathleen McGeever said.

The sisters’ drama, jealousy and love fill the home and bring life’s turmoils full circle.

Robert Barnes plays the charming and adorable Gerry Evans, who serves as the love interest to Christina and estranged father of Michael. He’s the man you’ll love to hate as he playfully twirls his cane and makes yet another promise he won’t keep.

It was important for McGeever to bring the Irish play by Brian Friel to NAU Theatre because it “gives five incredible roles for women,” and gave the cast a chance to experience “a journey of dialog, plot and action,” in which the show features three different accents.

The actors took on the challenge and favored the European dialect and spontaneity of the piece.

“It’s more trying to control the amount of energy we have,” Barnes said. “We’re ready to do this, and we’ve been working really hard but we’ve got to refine it and get into character.”

Part of that character is the cast’s love-hate relationship with accents and dancing.

“It’s fun to try something completely different,” Hogrelius said.

The cast also realizes the opportunity they were given to put on a special performance of a play not often noted.

“It’s a memory play, and those aren’t usually done in abundance,” added Ritter.

Dancing at Lughnasa premieres Feb. 24th in the Studio Theater and runs through March 4. Tickets are available for purchase through the NAU Central Ticket Office, $2 for NAU students and $16 for adults. For more information visit www.nau/edu/theatre.


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