Written by Zack Johnston
(Photo Courtesy of CSUF College of The Arts)
For the dense slice-of-life story Dancing at Lughnasa, it can be understandably tricky to create an entirely captivating production. While Cal State Fullerton’s production of the Irish drama fails to engage in compelling storytelling, it succeeds in some of its performance and technical aspects.
Set in Donegal, Ireland in 1936, the humble Mundy siblings struggle to maintain their household while different obstacles threaten their stability. With an absent father, an ill-minded brother and the household’s main source of income on the line, the five Mundy sisters must find a balance between pleasure and discipline.
The late Brian Friel’s Tony Award-winning play is one of family, hardship and desire. Cal State Fullerton’s production, directed by Master of Fine Arts candidate Sarah Ripper, adequately displays these characteristics, but overall it is lackluster.
Admittedly, Friel’s acclaimed drama is a highly involved and intricate piece. It requires deep intrinsic development while displaying soft-spoken disposition. However, Cal State Fullerton’s production falls short in that regard.
All around the stage there is a general lack of fluidity and connection. In certain moments characters are stiff and one-dimensional, and they show little bearing of its objective or development.
Despite this, the production does have it’s more theatrical and emotional moments of illustrating the love and joy the Mundy family shares.
Wyn Moreno plays Michael, the son of the youngest Mundy sister Christina. The rest of the sisters all take part in raising Michael, who only ever appears as an adult reminiscing about the days of living with his mother and aunts. Moreno switches between narrating the show as an adult and providing the voice of 7-year-old Michael throughout the show.
As an adult Moreno’s stage presence is striking and captivating. His soft, brooding voice creates a feeling of suspense and admiration as Michael recants his childhood.
Moreno’s portrayal of young Michael is well distinguished from his portrayal of adult Michael. With the help of the other performers, Moreno’s child-like voice, inflection and mannerisms help create the illusion of a 7-year-old.
Autumn Paramore plays Michael’s fun-loving aunt Maggie. Paramore creates an even balance between the lively and sincere qualities of Maggie.
Miguel Castellano plays Michael’s distant, happy-go-lucky father, Gerry. Castellano perfectly embodies Gerry’s care-free, yet burdened nature –all while delivering an excellent Irish accent. (In the play notes, Gerry is from Wales with an English accent, but in the film, Gerry does have an Irish accent.)
Joshua Johnson displays wonderful physicality in his performance as Jack, the eldest brother of the Mundy family who suffers from memory loss. Jack’s frustration and decrepitness is clearly illustrated through Johnson’s use of mannerisms like clenching fists and a limping leg.
Mitchel Simoncini’s lighting design cleverly assists in differentiating the scenes taking place in and out of the Mundy house. He’s also able to use the lighting to create a rural Irish atmosphere.
While some moments of the show have great merit, as a whole the production is uninspiring and could stand to use further development. That being said, the award-winning drama is still a piece with a lot to offer, and the performers of Cal State Fullerton handle it respectfully.
September 25 – October 18, 2015
Cal State University, Fullerton – Hallberg Theatre
Side note: Brain Friel the writer of “Dancing at Lughnasa” died recently October 2, 2015 while this production was going on.
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