Sweet, but not sentimental

Sometimes there is a moment captured that perfectly sums up the past and foretells the future. It is just such a moment playwright Brian Friel captured in his 1992 Tony Award winning play, "Dancing at Lughnasa."

Now Doug Warner has attempted to capture this moment in his production of the play at Camelot Theatre Company in Talent. Warner is the Producing Director of Camelot. He is directing "Dancing at Lughnasa," as well as playing Michael, the narrator of the story.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" is joyous but always anchored in reality, sweet but never sentimental.

Once again, Camelot Theatre has taken on a difficult play and crafted a smooth, immensely entertaining and satisfying evening in the theater.

It is August of 1936. The five unmarried Mundy sisters live together in a claustrophobic stone cottage in Ballybeg, a small village in County Donegal, Ireland.

That moment, that August, is described to us by Michael (Warner), now a grown man, as he relives his seventh summer and how the month of the Harvest Festival, the festival of the ancient Celtic god of light, Lugh, changed his life forever.

Warner is positively incandescent as Michael. He spins his tale, allowing us to see the underlying Celtic passion and music that infuse these drab lives, make them livable, give them hope.

These women lived their youth with love and song and laughter.

Ireland's hardscrabble economy has driven away most of the eligible young men &

gone to America, to England, to Australia &

leaving the Mundy girls without husbands.

Kate (Priscilla Quinby), the stern eldest sister, the only sister with a job, holds the family together, imposing the rigid morals of small-town Ireland and the Catholic church when her siblings dream of younger days when they could dance the night away around a pagan bonfire.

Now they are middle-aged and reluctant to appear "unseemly," dependent on a second-hand wireless radio, "Marconi," for contact with the outside world.

Michael is the "love child" of Christine (Jessica Price), the youngest Mundy sister. Michael's father is a charming, feckless Englishman, Gerry Evans (Brandon Manley), who pays a transient visit to Ballybeg every year or so, reminding Christine why she loves him and why she can't trust him.

Maggie (Linda Otto) tends the meager farm and the chickens and is the family cook.

She is a bit of a scamp and knows the words to all the scandalous songs of the day.

Agnes (Arlene Warner) is the artistic dreamer.

In another world, another time, she might have lived a creative and satisfying life.

But her life in Ballybeg, in 1936, is hand-knitting gloves for a local entrepreneur and looking after the household chores and the Mundys' developmentally disabled, sweetly childlike sister, Rose (Susan Dumond).

And now their elder uncle, Father Jack (Grant Shepard), has been sent home by the Church.

A missionary priest to the lepers of Uganda, Jack has come home frail, slightly senile and pining for his pagan African village.

Warner's cast here is a rather mixed-bag ensemble.

Each of the women perfectly limn their character but somehow, together, they never feel like a family.

I think this is due more to author Friel's play and the constraints of space than the excellent actors on the Camelot stage.

Priscilla Quinby beautifully choreographed the boisterous Irish dances and the sensuous ballroom turns.

Brooke Friendly was the consultant on Irish dance and music.

Donald Zastoupil, once again, crafted a lush, evocative set out of next to nothing.

Emily Ehrlich Inget did the costumes, Bart Grady did the lighting, Brian O'Connor did the sound.

As he did on Camelot's production of "Sockdology," Richard Moeschl served as dramaturg, providing details of the play's Celtic and African references as well as of Ireland of the time. (Moeschl is an award-winning playwright on his own and the arts and entertainment editor for the Mail Tribune and the Ashland Daily Tidings.)

"Dancing at Lughnasa" plays through May 25.

For more information, call 535-5250.

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