Dancing at Lughnasa
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Evan Johnson

Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel is the perfect drama for this time of year. Like winter yielding to spring, this play is rich with mythology, celebrating seasonal change. Friel, like his country Ireland, was raised on a mixture of pagan and Christian ceremonies that celebrate man’s deep connections to both the earthly and spiritual realms. The word Easter is derived from the Old Saxon name for the goddess of spring, Eostre. Just as Christians today celebrate a new beginning in Christ on Easter Sunday, the worshippers of Eostre danced to spring and the rising sun.

Echoes of this dance weaves in and out of Friel’s drama. The naturalness and freedom of dance circles round the characters’ more recent Christian beliefs, trying to breathe life into a cross that means far more than death. Even the character of the priest (George Maguire), who has recently returned from many years of missionary work in Africa, becomes most animated when talking about the tribal rituals and dances performed by the Ugandan people he ministered to.

This beautiful story of one Irish family takes us back to 1936 and is told through the eyes of its youngest member. Michael (Craig Mason), an illegitimate or “love child,” who only sees his father about once a year and is raised by his mother and several aunts, narrates this story. His mother’s love for dance was responsible for his life, and these ancient rituals of dance bring change to his entire family. It is a touching and sometimes comic story of life and death, but there’s always someone dancing to the powerful music of rebirth and the rites of spring.

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