'Dancing at Lughnasa’ new show at Paul Bunyan Playhouse
BY Natalie Grosfield
Special to the Pioneer
BEMIDJI — Some things are so breathtakingly beautiful, they last only for a moment — to exist any longer would be to lose the shimmery loveliness that so enchants the beholder. Like a bubble on the breeze wobbling gently back and forth, catching sunlight on the rainbows within, it bursts quickly leaving the watcher saddened by its all-too-soon departure.
So it is with the way of life the five unmarried Mundy sisters have created in the tiny family cottage in the emerald hills of Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland in the play "Dancing at Lughnasa," the Paul Bunyan Playhouse production that opens tonight at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.
"Dancing at Lughnasa" shows us the sisters’ lives, so delicate and beautiful in their simplicity that by their very nature have ensured they cannot and will not last. Each of the sisters is aware of this in some deep part of her soul, yet fights against the inevitable demise with strength, dignity and much laughter, giving the audience the rare privilege of taking an honest and uplifting journey through the harsh yet humorous realities of life in the late summer of 1936, found not only in the hills of Ireland but around the world.
Leslie Ball returns to the Playhouse as the loving, self-righteous Kate, the eldest of the Mundy sisters struggling with her own humanity even as she begrudgingly accepts it in others. Sister Maggie, played by newcomer Julie Ann Nevill, is full of life one moment and melancholy the next as she smokes, jokes and dances her way around the kitchen. She is joined in her cooking endeavors by Melanie Wehrmacher playing Agnes, knitter of mittens and self-appointed caretaker for Rose, as played by Katherine Tieben-Holt, the simple-minded, sweet baby sister.
Then there is Christine, played by Katie Adducci. Christine is the mother of Michael and as such, the only sister to have experienced life and love outside of the family confines. Leif Jurgenson is Michael and serves as the narrator of this story. Adored by all the sisters as the life and quite possibly, the very meaning of their existence, he was born a "love child." As such, Michael serves as a constant reminder to the sisters that, good or bad, life and love will find a way, even when so many and so much seems to be trying to destroy it. Although surrounded by family, Michael suffers from the absence of his charming and selfish father, Gerry. When he finally does visit the boy, Michael readily believes in the dreams his father shares with his young son. Andrew Sass as Gerry dances back into the heart of Michael’s mother when the mood strikes, charming not only his son and Christine, but the sisters and their brother, Father Jack, as a whole.
They all welcome home cherished brother, Peter Simmons as Father Jack, suffering from the effects of poor health acquired while laboring in the mission fields of Africa. Also afflicted by a mind often wandering far from its origins in the Catholic faith (to the extreme consternation of his eldest sister), he can be heard to mutter the solid logic that can only come from the truly confused. However, his arrival at the family home is second in excitement to the receipt of one wireless radio, referred to by the sisters as "Marconi" because of the name emblazoned on the front of the set. Marconi will serve to link the family not only to the outside world and its music, enticing the sisters to dance with the wild abandon found only in those used to denying themselves any form of self-expression, but to the beginning of the end … the bursting of this fragile and exquisite bubble.
"Dancing at Lughnasa" is an entertaining reminder of how quickly things, and lives, can change. Like sand on a shore, shifting constantly, it supports that today what it will wash away tomorrow. Allowing a glimpse into a way of life sublime in its simplicity yet destined to die quietly, it leaves one with the soft scent of the Irish turf, lush and thick, covering all in its warm blanket of living green.
"Dancing at Lughnasa" is directed by Zach Curtis, choreographed by Shannon Roberg, stage managed by Morgan Holmes, with lighting design by Grant Merges, costume design by A. Emily Heaney, property design by Teresa McGriff, scenic design by Stan Peal and sound design by Katharine Horowitz. Performances are underwritten by Cuperus Construction and made possible, in part, by a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council.
The show opens tonight at 8 tonight in the Historic Chief Theater, continuing through June 29. Tickets for all performances are $22 for adults and $10 for students with a 2 PM matinee Sunday June 23rd featuring $18 tickets. All tickets may be purchased through the Box Office at 218-751-7270, online at www. paulbunyanplayhouse.com on the Chief Theatre or Paul Bunyan Playhouse Facebook pages.