October 23, 2004

Dancing at Lughnasa

The Fall Term mainstage show is Dancing at Lughnasa. It takes place in late summer 1936 in rural Ireland. It reminded me in several ways of Ah, Wilderness! from last year: both revolve to some extent around a boy in nostalgic but changing times, but are really at least as much about the adults around him. This one a bit moreso, as the boy doesn't even appear as such in the play, although his older self---the narrator---fills us in on his half of the dialogue when necessary. (This particular dramatic conceit was odd and didn't get any less odd as the play went on. But, apparently it's written into the script, so there you go. Saves them the trouble of getting a 7-year-old bit player, I guess.)

Overall I think I would rate this show good but not great. There were a few line stumbles, which are hard to cover up in monologue, although I suppose they'll improve in later performances. It took a solid twenty or thirty minutes to really get into the show, partially because I think it took some of the actors that long to really slide into character. (Perhaps they were thinking too much about their Irish accents, which were good throughout but strongest at the beginning.) I have a hard time pinning down any one moment I didn't like, though.

What I did see was a whole lot of raw talent, and much of it in freshmen and sophomores. Four of the eight actors had never been in a mainstage show before, and I find myself already looking forward to their performances three years from now.

The hardest role, I think, was that of the narrator, played by Nicholas James Perry; aside from a few lines of dialogue as his younger self (spoken while standing off to the side while the other actors interact with the invisible character), what he has are a lot of big, long monologues. And aside from not knowing what to do with his hands for a lot of the time (and this is a hard problem---you try reciting a speech while making your hands neither distracting nor limp), he did a great job. Where did he come from? He's a freshman, and I expect great things from him.

At the beginning, I thought that Sylvie Davidson (whose performances I've commented on before on this blog) was overdoing it this time around. From pretty much the start, it felt like there was something unidentifiably not quite right about the way she was playing her character. In point of fact, it turned out that she was perfectly playing a character about whom something was Unidentifiably Not Quite Right. So, good work there.

In the same vein, I kept looking askance at certain things about the set work or the costuming---"I get that women in a rural household might be wearing something more practical on their feet but... are those galoshes?"---and then later discovering that these things were wholly intentional---"Rose, why do you insist on wearing your Wellingtons all the time?" Ah.

I think that Jason Cascio's main problem is that I don't like the characters he gets. I've not been really thrilled with any of his performances, but I don't think it's actually his fault. Here he played Gerry, the least dislikable of the characters I've seen him do, and he did a decent job at it. (I was certainly impressed when he sang "Anything Goes" while dancing for several minutes, not even sounding out of breath at the end of it.) I'd really like to see him land a more congenial part at some point, though!

I think my favourite performance ended up being Jessica Drew as Maggie, though. She has a great smile and played her part with just the right amount of winking fun; you got the clear sense that even though times weren't great she'd always make the best of them.

I also have to note that this is the second mainstage in a row that had a character actually knitting onstage, a development of which I wholly approve. But for a spinster who makes her living by knitting, I'd maybe expect a bit more familiarity with the process, not to mention needles more suited to the project. :P Between Aggie's knitting (purportedly by a professional knitter) and Gerry's dancing (purportedly by a ballroom dance instructor), I feel like I should've been doing some serious consulting on this show. ;)

But like I said, the show was fairly good. I'll give it two and a half out of four stars---though as any of my students will tell you, I'm kind of a harsh grader.

"They are men and women who would otherwise be civilians at home and to me, that's a draft." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 12:33am on 23 Oct 2004
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