A Production Worth Watching – Preview: Dancing at Lughnasa

At 7 PM this past Monday, I entered Hanover High School and headed to the auditorium to see a play that roughly 16 students (in addition to many parents, directors, and other adults) were putting on for this year’s winter performance.

Upon entering, I was asked by a passerby, hanging up flyers, if I was part of the Broadside. I answered and was then warned that the cast wanted me to know that this dress rehearsal was, well, “very much a rehearsal.”

The play, set in the summer of 1936, is told through the perspective of a young man, reminiscing on his childhood in Ballybeg, Ireland. The character, played by sophomore Gunnar Langhus, recounts his most cherished memories from the time he spent at his aunt’s cottage, often in the form of beautifully written monologues. The audience can soon discover for themselves that cherished does not necessarily denote the fondest memories. Rather, much of Dancing at Lughnasa actually suggests that the memories most striking or dear to someone may not be quite so positive.

The most memorable part of the production was the accents each of the eight characters employed. Sophie Caulfield, Lauren Brock, Gunnar Langhus, Bridgit Van Gemeren, Zophia Zerphy, Claire Austin-Washburn, and Johan Berendsen all assumed Irish accents for this year’s winter show, and Hayden Eric-Christensen took on a Welsh accent.

During the fifteen minute intermission, I got the chance to ask the cast how they developed their impressive dialects. Eric-Christensen and Langhus explained, talking over each other, that, for the past few months, a dialect coach had taught the group about Irish phonetics: “We learned things like how to change ‘been’ to bean,” explained one of the boys.

Each actor’s ability to maintain their respective accents while displaying deep emotions of rage, sadness, or lust was truly impressive.

When asked about the audition process, Langhus joked that each candidate was “given six knives, which were actually lit on fire, to juggle”, and “those who survived got the part.” Eric-Christensen added, “yeah, we were the ones who survived.”

The music and set really made the production, and I couldn’t help but be awed by the soft, lavender glow which was emitted from the backdrop, just beyond the curtain. In fact, thanks to the lighting crew, this ombre set (one that faded from a dark navy to a light purple) created a fairytale-like ambiance. The final image of the play captured the performers swaying gently before a colorful background, while an Irish jig slowly faded out. It was magical.

Additionally, the Irish dance music sprinkled throughout the play created many opportunities for the cast to break into song and dance, and I enjoyed each impromptu number.

Directly following the first half of the show, Bridgit Van Gemeren told me, only half-jokingly, that this play was, first and foremost, about “extreme catholic guilt”, and, secondly, about “hating men”. When I asked the others what was most striking about this season’s production to them, they touchingly explained it was the comradery. With such a small cast, the group became close, spending not only mandated hours for rehearsal together but hanging out outside of the designated practices, too.

The most prevalent theme in Dancing at Lughnasa (written by Brian Friel in 1990), is the brutally honest, vulnerable storytelling. This openness brings the audience so close to the characters and makes for a production worth-watching.

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