September 17, 2009

"Dancing at Lughnasa": Tale of Five Sisters Comes to SSU Stage, Oct. 9 -17

lughnasa1.jpgA kitchen radio called Marconi is a vital character in Brian Friel's wistful drama "Dancing at Lughnasa," as five unmarried sisters in rural Donegal County in 1936 struggle to survive and take care of each other, and the vulnerable members of their family, while the world around them changes swiftly and ominously.

As the sisters work, the music on their new luxury, a radio, enables them to periodically dance and dream. Critic John Lahr has said about the play that "Friel's enormous accomplishment in "Dancing at Lughnasa" is to flush out from the humdrum struggles of daily life a sense of wonder and to make the sacramental felt."

This new production premieres in the Evert B. Person Theatre at Sonoma State University at 7:30 p.m. on Fri., Oct. 9 and runs through Oct. 17.

Set in rural Ireland in the summer of 1936, the play evokes a tension between Christianity and paganism and is conveyed through the eyes of seven-year old Michael, the youngest sister's love child, who observes his aunts and mother simultaneously liberated and corrupted by the radio in the family kitchen.

The play also explores the duality between technological progress and personal tragedy often brought about through industrialization, and the conflict between the sacred in religion and the sacred within the self.

"At various times the sisters dance around the kitchen and in the field, and one character, a retired missionary, reflects on dance as the merging of the secular and the sacred - which is what Friel accomplishes in this play," wrote John Lahr in a 1991 review for Vogue magazine.

Director Stephanie Hunt appeared as an actress in the 1993 Bay Area premiere of "Dancing at Lughnasa" at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Now, sixteen years later, she's trying her hand at a different aspect of Friel's popular play for the SSU production.

"In our production, we have tried to listen to the rhythms of the play as carefully as we can. Friel's writing has an elegant ebb and flow, a subtle play of tension and release. The dialogue's rhythm is informed by the working lives of the sisters. The tedium of their daily lives pushes them to seek joy and release in dancing and music," explains Hunt.

Hunt is an acting instructor in the SSU Theater Department and an accomplished professional director and actress. Her directing achievements include "Lady's Dream" and "Bullet in the Brain," two of the three stories in the original "Stories by Tobias Wolff with the acclaimed Word for Word performing Arts Company in San Francisco." The production was extended for over two months and the San Francisco Chronicle named it one of the 10 Best Theater performances of 2002.

Also with Word for Word, Hunt directed Cornell Woolrich's noir thriller "Angel Face" at Project Artaud. The Bay Area Critics' Circle named "Angel Face" the best ensemble for 2007.

A prolific writer, Friel's plays have met with great success and have been produced extensively in Dublin, London, New York, and around the world. "Dancing at Lughnasa" is one of his most popular and successful plays.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" premiered in 1990 at the Abbey Theater in Dublin and the National Theater in London, where it earned the Olivier Award. The play, along with the original cast, was then moved to Broadway where the production garnered nominations for eight Tony Awards and won three.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" opens Fri., Oct. 9 at the Evert B. Person Theatre, and will run every evening through Sat., Oct. 17. except for Mon., Oct. 12. Curtain time for is at 7:30 p.m., except for a 5 p.m. performance on Sunday Oct. 11. Faculty and staff night is Oct. 15.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors, $12 for SSU faculty, alumni and staff and free to SSU students. To purchase them, call (707) 664-2353.

For more information, contact Jenny Parkinson at (707) 664-2325 or

Jean Wasp
Media Relations Coordinator
University Affairs
(707) 664-2057