The Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach has been a hub of activity as ECHO Players gets ready to present Dancing at Lughnasa by one of Ireland’s best loved playwrights, Brian Friel.
Opening on April 5 the play is at once heartbreaking, poignant, and also uproariously funny.
Director Sue Murguly believes that Friel offers vividly real characters and the audience will find themselves laughing one minute, and the next their eyes will be filled with tears.
Set in the summer of 1936 in a house in a remote part of County Donegal the five Mundy sisters live a simple life with older brother Jack, a missionary priest, and seven-year old Michael.
Barely able to make ends meet, the sisters acquire their first wireless radio and dream of happiness and love. Years later as Michael looks back at the events of that summer, a tender and passionate portrait of the Mundy sisters’ lives unfolds.
Friel’s Tony Award winning masterpiece is a bittersweet reflection on life in rural Ireland in the 1930s.
Dancing at Lughnasa is often referred to as a Memory Play. It uses a favourite Frielian device of framing narrative that turns the main action into a sustained flashback. The story is told by the grown up love child of the youngest sister, Chris. As a middle aged man Michael casts his mind back to late summer 1936, when he was seven, and he relates some of the events that are going to change his, and the sisters’ lives forever.
It includes the arrival of uncle Jack who, after25 years as a missionary in a remote village in Uganda, has been sent home for going native; the purchase of a Marconi wireless set, his absent father Gerry’s two visits during that summer, and the arrival of a knitting factory.
Murguly who has previously directed Educating Rita, Oleanna and Lettice and Lovage for ECHO Players, has assembled an impressive cast that includes; Don Harper who plays the role of Michael, the play’s narrator.
Harper, who has been part of the ECHO Players family for the last seven years — both acting and directing, said he was thrilled to take on the role of Michael because the dialogue is so powerful.
“It is an incredibly well written script. The language is beautiful. It flows so beautifully,” he admitted.
Harper said although he has several very large monologues as the narrator of the play he said they haven’t been that difficult to memorize.
“Sometimes it is easier to memorize than short snappy lines. You are dependent on yourself and don’t have to remember a que.”
He agrees the play is can be very serious at times and has some tender moving moments that bring a tear to your eye.
“These are nostalgic times for the boy. Michael’s recollections are poignant. He only saw his father who was a drifter on occasions and he has a longing for his father,” Harper said about his role.
He added that it has been a joy working with Murguly as the director and the rest of the cast.
Kate, the unyielding, primly efficient schoolteacher is played by Vicki Barta. Kelly Barnum, plays the fun loving and spirited Maggie. Melody Barta plays Rose, the forever youthful guileless sister. Agnes, the caring middle sister is being played by Shaleigh Spence. Chris, Michael’s mother, is played by Althea Rose.
Completing this superb cast is Geoffrey Moddle as care-free Gerry and Alistair McVey as Father Jack, a missionary priest who has just returned from Africa.
Alistair said he is enjoying playing the role of Jack who he describes as a sympathetic and warm character.
“It’s a wonderful part,” he admitted and added he is lucky to have it.
Alistair said the play, which opened on Broadway in October, 1991 and won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play, continues to be performed all over the world because it is such a beautiful production.
Alistair’s wife Lesley is producing the play which, after its run on the Village Theatre stage ,will be taken to the North Island Zone Theatre Festival in Courtenay May 18.
Lesley agreed there is always pressure when you take a production to a drama festival but she looks forward to the feedback from the out of town visitors and the advice that will be handed out by the adjudicator.
“I like this play. I was delighted when ECHO chose to do it,” she said.
The McVeys have been involved in the community theatre ever since they moved to Qualicum Beach in 2001. Both admit they enjoy all aspects of the theatre including working backstage.
“In community theatre you have to be prepared to do everything,” said Lesley.
The two said they usually both get involved in a production because it makes things less complicated on the home front.
“If one of us is going to be out three nights a week for three months … we might as well both be out,” agreed Alistair.
The upcoming production is also an opportunity to showcase the talents of the various members of the community who have created an authentic setting of a 1930s rural Irish cottage.
The skills of Ian Taylor and Mick Banks in building replica furniture have been combined with the generous assistance of Elizabeth Rosewell of Mildred’s Memorabilia in providing many of the genuine antique items to be found on stage. Mo Ross and Jeannie Ackles-Cardinal have also contributed to the atmosphere with their skills at painting and decorating the set.
Dancing at Lughnasa runs April 5 to 22 at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach 110 West 2nd Ave. For further information or tickets visit www.echoplayers.ca or phone 250-752-3522.