Ask For a Line

Creighton University set to open Irish staple Dancing at Lughnasa

Creighton University students in jeans and sweatshirts follow director Alan Klem, shaking limbs and flexing voices with, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? They’re not auditioning for a Geico insurance commercial, but rehearsing for Creighton’s first Irish play in Klem’s memory. Dancing at Lughnasa opened Wednesday and runs through Feb. 6 in their Studio Theatre. Why would a Jesuit school shy away from the Irish playwrights? In Klem’s case, it’s the language. Not language that offends, but “I’m not really that good with dialect,” which he planned to brush up on during a recent sabbatical until the call came for him to take over the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival. So he feels fortunate that colleague Michael McCandless volunteered to help a cast dominated by Creighton seniors with the dialects of Brian Friel’s characters. The award-winning play focuses on a very poor family of five sisters who scrape by with no running water or electricity, their limited lives brightened by their Marconi, a battery-powered radio. They’re visited by an uncle, Father Jack (Patrick Kilcoyne), who struggles to regain the English he lost while speaking Swahili for years as an African missionary. Michael, the son of unwed Chris (Maggie Happe), adds some narration, revealing troubles that lie ahead for the poverty-stricken women. The cast gets ready for a final week of rehearsal with familiar advice from the director: “If you’re happy, be super-happy; if angry, super-angry.” In other words, “Don’t hold back, give it lots of energy.” Stage manager Jake McCoy reminds, “You can no longer ask for a line,” but Klem interjects, “I contradicted that since we didn’t get to Act Two Saturday.” So McCoy adds, “Did you get that? This is the last night you can ask for lines.” Then they stepped into the Mundy family cottage two miles outside Ballybeg in County Donegal, where the Marconi plays and then Chris enters singing, bucket in hand. She tells her son Michael, up on the stone wall, “You owe me money.” When Father Jack enters, he asks Maggie (Mallory Frielich, who doubles as costume designer) about the now-unfamiliar word “nag,” as when someone pesters a person with complaints. “Ah,” he nods, “the English vocabulary is coming back to me.” Which raises a question from Kate (Teresa Seale), the stern sister who worries about all of them: “When are you going to start saying mass again?” There’s no clear answer to that one, and when Gerry (Brian Wessling), the father of Michael, arrives, he offers to answer a different question: What’s wrong with the radio, which goes in and out of signal. He climbs on the roof, singing, “The daring young man on the flying trapeze,” and worries shy sister Agnes (Kathleen Franco) that he’ll fall. But soon it’s a missing Rose (Kelsay Dawson) that causes consternation, which doesn’t end when she returns, sniffing a blossom, after a secret meeting with a young man at a lovely location. “And that’s all I’m going to tell you,” she says. “That’s all you’re going to get.” And so it went with no one stopping to ask for a line. And no apparent problems with dialect crossing the line from authenticity (they’re in Northern Ireland) to obscurity. The strongest accent came in the speech of Gerry, who is a Welshman. Friel’s play won a Tony in 1992, and was first performed here by the Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre. Before the rehearsal ended, some ominous foreshadowing — Gerry’s announcement that factories were taking over the handiwork that provided a meager income for the sisters — preceded Michael’s forecast of sadder events to come. But playgoers will longer remember the moments when the sisters dance and sing with primal abandon. And they’ll share the afterglow of their sisterly sympathies for each other and for Father Jack, who can’t quite make it home from Uganda. And maybe they’ll leave with a hint of the Mundy girls’ hot tea and soda bread lingering in their memories. Dancing at Lughnasa runs Feb. 2-5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Studio Theatre in the Lied Fine Arts Center at 2500 California Plz. on the Creighton University campus. Tickets are $10, $8 for seniors, $5 for students, and available at the box office or by calling 280.1448.

posted at 07:40 pm
on Tuesday, February 01st, 2011

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