Theater spotlight: Dancing at Lughnasa

Mo Perry, Tracey Maloney, Karen Weiss-Thompson, Amanda Whisner, Stacia Rice.
Ann Marsden

Brian Friel's play about a family of sisters in an Irish village in 1936 is an elegant, beautifully constructed thing, a rumination on the past that touches on both the nature of memory and the delicate, ready-to-break moments in life before things rearrange themselves into new and unfamiliar patterns. Narrator Michael (John Catron) moves through the action to lend commentary, describing through adult eyes events he witnessed as a young boy. He looks on as his mother Chris (Tracey Maloney) and sister Agnes (Amanda Whisner) deal with the laundry, while the bawdy Maggie (Karen Wiese-Thompson) calculates the minutes until her next cigarette. Schoolteacher Kate (Mo Perry) arrives home in time to dispense goods from town, along with unrelenting salvoes of negative, judgmental patter. Rounding things out is Rose (Stacia Rice), a sweet-spirited soul in a state of perpetually addled confusion, though she's given a run for her money by Uncle Jack (Bruce Bohne), who has just returned from decades of missionary work at a Congolese leper colony and can barely recall his native tongue. Director Craig Johnson emphasizes a purposeful pace along with small touches of humor and affection that underscore the happiness one forgets when looking back on shattered times. For difficulty is never far off, whether in the form of Chris's harebrained sometime lover Gerry (Randy Schmeling, giving off his character's fraudulence in painful, charming waves), or industrialization robbing the household of much of its livelihood, or Kate's slow realization that her slim, pinched hopes will come to naught. Even as a sense of unwelcome change creeps into matters, though, this ensemble pushes hard into the action, crafting pleasingly distinctive characters while keeping us in the moment, never sensing that anything is inevitable. For while Dancing at Lughnasa works as storytelling, a credible window into the improbable intersection of lives that we call families, Catron captures Friel's final monologue with gratifying assurance. The particulars of what we remember have their place, stories bubbling in our minds, but the textures of memory matter just as much, if not more. This show provides texture aplenty. $20-$30. 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Minneapolis Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis; 952.929.9097. Through January 30

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