Scene from the play with a woman gesturing with mouth open

CUTLINE: Sharing an exuberant moment in Dancing at Lughnasa are (from left) Kat Bramley as Christina, Sarah Harlett as Maggie, Katherine Scholl as Kate, Glenna Brucken as Rose and Ellie Clark as Agnes. (photo by Daniel Winters)

On the night Hillary Clinton became the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination for president, I was watching a drama about women whose lives are decidedly less fulfilling.

Dancing at Lughnasa is a Tony Award-winning memory play set in a remote Irish village in the summer of 1936. Though it’s narrated by Michael Evans (Brian David Evans), an adult looking back on his childhood, it’s set in a household of women.

Michael’s mother, Christina Mundy (Kat Bramley), shares the home with her four sisters. Together, they eke out a tenuous existence, as only oldest sibling Kate (Katherine Scholl) has a steady job. But economic problems brought on by the Great Depression seem to weigh on them less than their social isolation.

None of them has a husband or boyfriend or any prospects of finding one, perhaps because the male population was decimated by a civil war that ended just 13 years earlier. As a result, four of the sisters leap at the chance to attend the area’s annual Lughnasa Festival, a celebration dating back to pagan times that would give them the chance to mix it up on the dance floor. However, Kate forbids them from attending, perhaps worrying it would jeopardize her position as a teacher at the local Catholic school.

Playwright Brian Friel drops in on this troubled household at a time when a series of events combine to upset its uneasy equilibrium:

  ▪ Father Jack (Jonathan Putnam), a brother who spent years serving as a priest at a Ugandan leper colony, returns to live with his sisters after being removed from his post for mysterious reasons.

  ▪ Gerry Evans (Joe Carlson), Michael’s father, pays a visit on his way to enlisting to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

  ▪ “Marconi,” a primitive radio, is given a place of honor in the household.

The radio’s appearance would seem to be the least of these developments, but in some ways it has the most profound effect. Once a day—when the cantankerous set can be persuaded to work—it emits Irish dance music that allows the women to temporarily throw off their troubles and inhibitions as they swing and sway around the kitchen.

I first saw Dancing at Lughnasa years ago in a college production that, I felt, ignored the tensions that threaten what otherwise is a loving household. The current production, presented by a new professional troupe affiliated with Ohio University, ignores nothing.

Sensitively and stylishly directed by Sheila Daniels, Tantrum Theater’s production combines both onstage and offstage talents to turn the play into an entrancing mood piece. Crucial to its success are Melanie Taylor Burgess’s rustic costume designs, Robert J. Aguilar’s dramatic lighting, Robertson Witmer’s subtle sound design and L.B. Morse’s scenic design, which sets the sister’s modest home against a painterly depiction of the Irish countryside.


Doing double duty, actor Evans also serves as the dialect coach, as a result of which nearly everyone speaks in a convincing Irish brogue. (Putnam’s Father Jack actually sounds more English, but perhaps that can be explained by the character’s years of service as a chaplain in the British army.)

The production’s only weakness—and, unfortunately, it’s a big one—is that the room’s acoustics create an echo-y environment. Combined with the heavy accents, this makes it difficult to catch some of the dialogue, especially during the sisters’ most frenzied discussions. Not only does this force us to miss some of Friel’s exquisitely lyrical language, but it makes it harder to get acquainted with characters such as the earthy Maggie (Sarah Harlett), the secretly pining Agnes (Ellie Clark) or the mentally challenged Rose (Glenna Brucken).

The good news is that we eventually get to know everyone, thanks to fine acting all around. And the acoustics are less of a problem in calmer scenes, such as those in which Bramley’s cautiously affectionate Christina gets reacquainted with Carlson’s roguishly charming Gerry.

My advice: Minimize the acoustic problems by sitting as close to the stage as you can. But if you care about good theater, don’t miss the production, which wraps up Tantrum’s first summer season in Central Ohio. If we’re lucky, it won’t be the last.  

Tantrum Theater will present Dancing at Lughnasa through Aug. 13 in the Abbey Theater, Dublin Recreation Center, 5600 Post Road, Dublin. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $27.50. 740-593-2436 or

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