Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lughnasa travelling to Amana

by Gerry Roe

Amana - Ushers Ferry Theatre Company is taking their most recent production, Brian Freel's Dancing at Lughnasa, on the road to Amana. Lughnasa is show with an impressive history. The New York production received the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play. A movie starring Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon was released in 1998. The play continues to be very popular with regional and community theatres, with good reason: a compelling story with eight very good roles, well filled by The Ushers Ferry Theatre Company actors when they performed it in Cedar Rapids.

Each actor is to be commended for giving a rounded performance of considerable depth. The sisters are played by Ann Cejka, Paula Grady, Donna Heyvaert, Kaitlyn Davids and Kristen Stewart (who very ably directed the piece). Father Jack is played by Keith Kenel, Mike Wilhelm plays Gerry Evans, and Brian Tanner is Michael Evans, both the narrator and a seven-year old boy in the action of the play. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I know and have worked with Paula Grady and Brian Tanner and I was delighted with their performances.)

Michael tells a story from his childhood in the 1930’s when he lived with his unmarried mother and her four sisters near a small village in Donegal. The sisters live very frugally, scraping together whatever they can to send to their brother Jack, a priest in a leper colony in Uganda. One of the few indications of the modern world is the sisters’ battery-operated radio, unreliable as it is. Change is imminent; Jack returns physically ill and frail, Michael’s Welsh father makes a brief unsatisfactory appearance, and the sisters face the loss of their livelihood and the break-up of the family unit.

The Festival of Lughnasa is central to the play. Lugh, the pagan god of the harvest, is celebrated with revelry, bonfires, drink, and dancing. The contrast of the old pagan customs with the repressive nature of the church is most fully realized in Father Jack who has, as they say, “gone native,” adopting African tribal ritual and ceremony and leaving his traditional faith behind.

Although the play raises deep questions and introduces difficult social issues, it is first and foremost a good story. We come to care very much about the characters in the play and to share in their pleasures as well as their problems. When the sisters break spontaneously into dance, we have to admire their sense of family as well as their courage in the face of whatever may come. There is a time to celebrate the moment and they have the good sense to do so and the generosity to share the moment with us. The Ushers Ferry Theatre Company’s production of Dancing at Lughnasa will be presented March 25, 26, 27 at Iowa Theatre Artists Company in Amana. Contact ITAC for more information at CALL: 319-622-3222 or email:

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