By Brian Friel
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric

Performed at
The Irish American Heritage Center
4626 North Knox Avenue

February 27 – April 4, 2010
Thur, Fri & Sat @ 7:30pm
Sun @ 3:00pm
No performance: March 13th
Added performance: March 8th, 7:30pm

Dancing at Lughnasa is Brian Friel’s joyous and moving memory play recounting the yearnings and sublimation of love by the five Mundy sisters. Living out a mundane existence in the rural village of Ballybeg in 1936, the family’s reputation is precariously balanced between the shame of the youngest sister’s illegitimate son, Michael, and their pride for the eldest brother, Father Jack. Friel uses the Irish pagan festival of the harvest, La Lughnasa, for a flash point as a full-grown Michael recounts the heart-wrenching details of his family’s history with poignancy, humor and powerful lyricism.

Photos by Jackie Jasperson

Kate Barbara Figgins
Maggie Sarah Wellington
Agnes Carolyn Klein
Rose Anne Sunseri
Chris Simone Roos
Father Jack Don Bender
Michael Kevin Theis*
Gerry Philip Winston
Director Elise Kauzlaric
Stage Manager Erin Diener*
Scenic Designer Alan Donahue
Lighting Designer Sarah Hughey
Sound Designer Joe Court
Costume Designer Aly Greaves
Choreographer Ellen Waller

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association


From New City
March 1, 2010


In their inaugural production at their new home, Seanachai presents Brian Friel’s bittersweet memory play, chronicling a simpler time that wasn’t so simple.

In Depression-era Ireland, The Mundy sisters welcome their African missionary brother Jack (Don Bender) home after twenty-five years’ service. That’s not the only change the sisters endure. Kate (Barbara Figgins) may lose the teaching job that supports their family; Agnes (Carolyn Klein) and Rose (Anne Sunseri) will lose their glove-making living when a factory puts them out of business. Maggie (Sarah Wellington) and Chris (Simone Roos) yearn for joy as their gray world closes in.

The ensemble captures the piece’s very Irish combination of quick humor and painful melancholy. Wellington brightens the mood with quips and riddles; Figgins finds the desperation as upstanding stalwart Kate finds her back against the wall. Klein, Sunseri and Roos furtively and effectively hunger for love they can never know.
From Chicago Theater Blog
March 1, 2010

Probably the most outstanding aspect of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa is the deftly-written female roles. The story concentrates on the interactions, loves, and private catastrophes of the Mundy sisters, five adult women who live together in the fictional Irish hamlet of Ballybeg. Friel visits this made-up town in several of his plays, including his smash hit Translations, and here he shows a period directly before massive changes swept over Ireland and the world. Dancing at Lughnasa is Friel’s ode to nostalgia. It exudes the bittersweet feeling that come along with fond memories of a perfect instant in time, a moment followed by years of strife and hardship.

Friel’s play gets a delightful treatment by Seanachai Theatre Company, a group that focuses on producing classic and cutting-edge Irish drama (their home base is the Irish American Heritage Center). I’m about as Irish as a Shamrock Shake, but I was able to relate to this heart-wrenching production, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, on a visceral level. It explores themes that are familiar to us all: the sometimes devastating effects of change and the crystal-clear beauty of a perfect memory.

The 1990 play is set in the summer of 1936. Friel’s world is rife with tension; we’re watching the events directly preceding the bubble popping. In this Ballybeg, the Church is confronted with pagan practices (the play’s action takes place around the ancient harvest festival of Lughnasa), the industrial revolution is transforming rural life, and the problems of the world, problems which would explode in a few years, are creeping into the remote corners of Ireland.

The narrator, Michael (the charming Kevin Theis), was seven at the time, but now tells us the story as a middle-aged man with the advantage of knowing what happens next. Not a whole lot of action actually occurs in the play, but we stay riveted to every scene because Michael tosses us tidbits of future adversity.

Even though they are all adults, the Mundy sisters range a great deal in age. They are all unmarried and they all work very hard to keep themselves afloat. The oldest is Kate (a powerful Barbara Figgins), whose motherly leadership and strict Catholicism is equally resented and needed by her sisters. Her middle-aged peer is Maggie (Sarah Wellington), who fills the house with jokes, dancing, and soda bread. Rose (Anne Sunseri) and Agnes (Carolyn Klein) are both in their 30s and have a very special bond with each other. Michael’s mother Chris (Simone Roos) is the youngest, and allows herself to be strung along by Michael’s charismatic yet deadbeat father, Gerry (Philip Winston). The five sisters have to deal with a new addition to the household, Father Jack (Don Bender), their elderly uncle who just returned from a long mission trip to Uganda, where he has contracted malaria and left his Catholicism behind.

The actresses have a great connection with each other, filling the house with lots of love and lots of hostility. Wellington shines the most – she is lovely, vibrant, and fun, yet can still find Maggie’s vulnerability and loneliness. The script says that Rose has a developmental disorder, but this doesn’t come across in Sunseri’s performance, she just seems like the youngest sister (which might be a choice by Kauzlaric). This isn’t a huge problem, but it muddles a later scene involving possible sexual abuse. Beyond this issue, the five women capture the sibling relationship wonderfully. Sometimes they are sweet as honey, sometimes they can’t stand to be under the same roof.