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EMA Review: Dancing at Lughnasa ****1/2 Delicious

History in Dancing

By Paul Atreides

Author, playwright

Theatre critic at


How history repeats itself…or feels like it repeats. Brian Friel’s Tony Award winner, Dancing at Lughnasa, it’s 1936, around the time of the Lughnasa Harvest Festival. The Catholic has helped pass a law against dancing in public places. The Industrial Revolution was finding its way to the small villages of Ireland, and the Church supported Franco, a Nationalist, during the Spanish Civil War.

The Mundy family is in disarray. Five spinster sisters are trying in vain to eke out an existence, fighting against religious repression, fighting against machinery taking over jobs, fighting to stay together and hold onto what little they have.

Lest you think the play is all gloom and doom, director Barbara Brennan has deftly found lighthearted moments throughout, particularly in the scenic frivolity of dancing with complete freedom and abandon.

 Kate, the oldest sister and the most staid is played to the hilt by Tina Rice. Yet there are short moments when she allows herself to let go and join in the fun, only to turn in an instant. Though she has a tendency to soften her voice to the point where dialogue gets lost, Rice manages to bring those sudden changes to life with enough emotion to make them understandable and believable.

Annette Houlihan Verdolino plays Maggie, the sister who finds ways to support every sister in the needed time. The changes are never forced and Verdolino knows how to turn a phrase and get the laugh. She is also the best at interacting with Michael – a very young nephew we don’t see – because we never lose sight of where he is or what he’s doing.

The use of dialects is always risky business. While the cast was consistent in them, there were times they delivered dialogue so rapidly the words were muddled. The result was losing the laugh and feeling left out. The male cast fared better in that regard because their dialects were deliberately different.

Timothy Cummings is Jack, an older brother and a priest who is home after 25 years in Uganda and now battling malaria. His halting speech is tinged with an English accent. Through the character’s struggle and eventual recovery, Cummings is always on point, telegraphing it all in movement and voice.

The spinster sisters haven’t always been without suitors, and Jacob Moore portrays Gerry, a Welshman who has pursued Christina and is, in fact, the father of her young (unseen) son, Michael. Moore brings a savoir-faire to the role that imbues the character with fun and the sense of always seeking adventure.

It’s the adult Michael we see and hear as he narrates the memories of that summer in 1936. Though the dialect occasionally overpowers bits of dialogue, William Fleming Tarris brings the perfect balance of fact versus reflectiveness.

Production values are high. Eric A. Koger’s set uses a representative style to bring the interior of the country cabin and still show the County Donegal vista. Johanna Caley’s lighting manages to alternate the focus from inside to action in the yard without being obtrusive. And Kendra Faith’s period costumes are a wonder, right down to the footwear. 

 The play is a peek into the past and how humanity manages to struggle through hard times. It’s timely. You certainly won’t be sorry if you go and take a glimpse.

 Take note of the venue change to Vegas Theatre Company’s facility.

What: Dancing at Lughnasa

When:  7 p.m. Friday – Saturday – Monday; 2 p.m. Sunday through April 29

            2 p.m. Saturday, April 27

Where: 1025 S. 1st Street

Tickets: $35 - $40 (

Grade:  ****1/2 Delicious


Producer: A Public Fit; Artistic Director: Ann-Marie Pereth; Producing Director: Joseph D. Kucan; Director: Barbara Brennan; Choreography: Ann-Marie Pereth; Set Design: Eric A. Koger; Lighting Design: Johanna Caley; Sound Design: Constance Taschner; Costume Design: Kendra Faith; Production Stage Manager: Rebecca Sass



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