By Sarah H. Dolan
Restraint marks the beginning of the Mundy sisters' dance—a tap of the foot, nod of the head and light pat on a cooking pot. But as the Regent University Department of Theatre production of Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa unfolds, the sisters let their hair down as their life's dance literally lets loose into chaotic stomps, howls and leaps of unrestraint.
"One of the themes in the play is that music and dancing transcend language," said special guest Director Marianne Savell, adjunct professor at Vanguard University. "And of course the irony is that theatre is truly language-based and yet Friel is always working toward the transcendent."
Dancing at Lughnasa is the story of five unmarried Mundy sisters, eking out their lives in a small Irish village in 1936. Their sparse existence is interrupted by brief, colorful bursts of music from the radio, their only link to the romance and hope of the world at large. The play is narrated by one of the sisters' son as he remembers the women who raised him.
"The Regent actor playing Michael (the son) is a young man that I directed during his undergraduate studies in California," Savell said. "The Regent actresses who play the sisters in the production are quite like sisters off-stage too—which really enriches the play."
The role of Michael is played by Jeff Fazakerley, a first-year MFA in Acting student. Four out of the five Mundy sisters are performed as thesis roles by third-year MFA students: Katie Cheely (Christina), Anna Koehler (Maggie), Alaska Reece Vance (Rose) and Katie Fridsma (Kate). The fifth sister (Agnes) is played by second-year MFA student Tabitha Ray.
Throughout the production the sisters struggle to make ends meet and understand their roles in the society in which they live in. As a result, they face battles of image: propriety versus freedom, and ordinary duty versus the more exciting world of the spontaneous. Meanwhile, the radio, which works intermittently, manages to put their conflicting feelings to music.
"The play also deals very strongly with the idea of 'religion' taking over a pagan society," said Savell. "And one of the characters in the play is a priest who in his 25 years of working with lepers in Africa has lost his religion. His character brings up a lot of questions." The priest is portrayed by first-year MFA student Mike Salsbury.
In Regent's adaptation of the play, Savell directs the characters' interactions with one another to show, rather than tell, time-sequences; the narrator's memory and its relation to present and past. "I think the audience will be delighted with the play...lights, sound, costumes, set and props are all quite wonderful and have a bit of magic to them," she said.