West T. Hill play looks at sisterly love

September 05, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Sisters dancing with wild abandon in one scene provides the name for "Dancing at Lughnasa," West T. Hill Community Theatre's next production.

The play by Brian Friel is about five sisters trying to keep their heads above water in 1930s Ireland.

Director Tim Culhan explains that Lughnasa is an August harvest festival celebrated in Ireland. The sisters have gotten their first radio and as it plays, it inspires various characters to dance.

"A critical moment is when all the sisters unleash all their inhibitions and dance wildly to the music on the radio," he says.

The setting is three weeks in one summer where the family falls apart and dissolves in various ways, Culhan says.

"It's a slice of life. At a crisis moment in the lives of these sisters, there is some sadness in the story and there is some strengths and the will to go on."


Culhan, who is settling into the director's chair after a four-year absence, says he likes this play because it gives juicy roles to every member of the cast.

"I love it when you've got a good-sized cast and everybody has a fully developed character," he says.

Two of the five sisters are newcomers

Of the five sisters, two are newcomers to West T. Hill. Jane Dewey and Candace Bonnett both have acting experience, but have not worked at West T. Hill.

"Both have a lot of energy," Culhan says.

Dewey, who plays Kate, is the only sister who works.

"She is the only bread-earner in the family. The others do some odds and ends. She views herself as the head of the household, both financially and morally."

Bonnett plays Chris, the younger sister, who had the misfortune of having a child out of wedlock.

"The child lives with them but never appears as a child on-stage. Chris has gained some independence by having to defend herself as a subject of ridicule," Culhan says.

Chris continues to have an on-and-off relationship with the father of the child, Gerry, who is played by Steve Sleeper.

The play is told from the point of view of the child as a grown man. D. Todd Littlefield, who plays Michael, comes on-stage at various times and tells what happens.

Rose, played by Susan Pope, is described as being slow.

"But she's the life and innocence for all the sisters. They protect her, especially Agnes," Culhan says.

Agnes, played by Jennifer Brummett, has taken on the role of Rose's confidante and protector. They knit gloves to make extra money for the household.

Maggie, played by Jan Sheffield, is the housekeeper and does most of the cooking and cleaning. She is the jokester for the family.

"Her way to get through is to say everything is wonderful. She tries to lift everybody's spirits in the sadder moments of the play," Culhan says.

The sisters' much older brother, Jack, a priest, returns home after being a missionary in Africa for 25 years. Jack, played by Stan Campbell, returns in ill health and in some fashion losing his faith, Culhan says.

Major technical requirements

In addition to working with a cast with equally proportioned roles, Culhan says the play has major technical requirements.

"It has a big set. There are two playing areas, an outdoor part and an indoor part. It's challenging to light it and music comes in and out a lot in the show. It's sort of a period piece so we have to get all of the costumes right, too."

Watching it all come together is satisfying for this director, especially after taking a break.

"It's always overwhelming, but I missed it. I just love working with actors."

He says the play, although serious, is filled with moments of joy and great drama.

"It has wonderful dramatic moments from scene to scene. It should be a great theatrical evening and experience."

If you want to go...

“Dancing at Lughnasa” is being presented at 8 p.m. Sept. 10-11, 16-18 and at 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at West T. Hill Community Theatre on Larrimore Lane. Cost: $9 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets: (859) 236-1310.

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