‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ shows strong student talent

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Hundreds of people filled the seats of Nordhoff Hall’s Little Theatre on Sept. 30, and for about two-and-a-half hours watched students perform in “Dancing at Lughnasa,” a play that chronicles the lives of an Irish family that faces challenges and is bound to change.

Rarely does Michael, played by actor Colin Jennings, become the central focus of the play, but he stands distances away, unraveling his family’s life throughout the play.

From a broad perspective, “Dancing at Lughnasa” is about an evolving family.

But in detail, the play touches on some of the family’s main issues: tradition and identity.

The setting is County Donegal, Ireland in 1936.

Michael, who has five relatives – the Mundy sisters – is part of a family laced with deeply rooted Irish-Catholic tradition. The play begins with Michael talking about his family, and the audience is exposed to the lives of the sisters, one of which, Chrissy, is his mother who gave birth to him out of wedlock.

The “Dance at Lughnasa” refers to an annual dance festval some of the sisters wanted to attend for fun. The dance festival takes on an interesting purpose in the play: it is a part of the family’s life. The actors and actresses, nevertheless, dance throughout the play and keep the audience entertained. The family shows their love for dancing when they have quite a good time dancing with their wireless radio they treat in an almost-holy manner. Their fancy Irish steps represent the tradition and importance put in dancing.

But the dance festival is condemned by family member Kate, a self-righteous woman who calls it a “pagan” event, unfit for an honorable Catholic family such as them to attend.

Michael also gives a closer glimpse of his family’s Catholic tradition when his uncle Jack enters the scene.

“He was a hero and a saint to me mothers and me aunts,” Michael reminisced of his uncle, who was a missionary in Uganda, Africa, to convert the “heathens” from their wicked ways.

But the uncle comes back to the family a bit disillusioned, telling the sisters of the different cultures and disillusions he was exposed to.

Everyone seems to be changing, moving into times of acceptance, but more importantly, moving into a time that will define the family and change their lives.

Even as someone on the sidelines, Michael reveals the issues he deals with in his family as the circumstances of his out-of-wedlock birth is brought up when his estranged father Gerry re-enters his mother’s life.

Challenges persist throughout the play.

One of the Mundy sisters, Rose, decides to go to the dance festival with her love interest.

Michael continues to paint the picture of his family’s destiny, noting that after that incident and other events, his family began to move toward a slow decline that would end up changing them.

By the end of the play, Michael’s observations are right on point, and the lives of his family members are no longer the same. On a broader scale, “Dancing at Lughnasa” is about the ever-changing circumstances and situations in one’s life and finding identity.

The acting and production crew at CSUN successfully recreated the scenes and performances of the Tony award-winning play, which originally premiered in Dublin, Ireland about 15 years ago.

Stage lighting and design were colorful and aesthically pleasing, with a large sun in the background, often changing into bright red, orange or yellow. Furniture of the era, along with old-fashioned dresses the sisters wore, were successful in showing the simple times that the family lived in.

Overall, the acting in the play, which was directed by Ken Sawyer, was good quality, with most of the actors and actresses passing as believable, thick-accented Irish men and women. They seemed like a realistic Irish family.

“Dancing at Lughnasa” will continue to play through Oct. 9 at the Little Theater in Nordhoff Hall.

It is a play worth seeing.

Samuel Richard can be reached at samuel.richard@csun.edu.