FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 7, 2013) -- In their second offering of the season, the Lee Playhouse set aside its tap shoes and trombones to stage Dancing at Lughnasa, a production that could easily become one of those shows that audiences will remember with fondness for years.
Don’t be fooled by the title. Dancing at Lughnasa doesn’t contain the chorus line that might ordinarily be found in the boy-meets-girl musicals that are the main staple of community theaters. There’s no corn in Kansas, no moon in June and no singing in this production. The Theater Company at Fort Lee has instead taken a risk by staging a play with an amazing emotional intimacy while being completely theatrical.
The plot of this Irish play covers one month in the lives of a group of five unmarried sisters, their brother, a priest who has returned from a 25-year sojourn as a missionary to Africa, a traveling salesman who once again comes courting and the illegitimate young son of one of the sisters. With eight characters on stage vying for attention, the ensemble must be credited for not crowding the story while maintaining respectable Irish accents.
Much like the character she portrays, the ever-reliable Ann C. Easterling shepherds the casts with a strong performance as Kate, the prim schoolteacher who keeps the poor family together. Sarah Legere plays Maggie, the cheeky sister who boldly meets life’s challenges with a joke and a cigarette.
It is Tyler D. Wilson in the role of Michael – the son fully grown – who is tasked with the responsibility of imposing meaning to the events which amuse, entertain and will eventually grieve the audience. Mournfully weary, Wilson’s character narrates the story while also giving voice to his unseen seven-year-old self – a staging choice that admittedly can be difficult to embrace.
A shining addition in many recent Playhouse productions, Christopher H. Stephens seems to be enjoying himself as the man trying to charm his way back into the heart of Mara Barrett’s Chrissy, a woman burdened with the disappointment of lost love and the shame of that love’s child.
When she warms to the attentions of her sister’s suitor, Katherine Weightman allows the audience a peak of the girl her character Agnes might have been. Amber Widener does a nice turn as the simple-minded, open-hearted Rose.
Veteran Playhouse performer Mike White reigns in his big personality to good effect in the role of the slightly unstable priest. A less-restrained performance might have thrown off the show’s careful balance.
Kudos also goes Becky Lussier for light design and John “Red” Redling for sound design, respectively. Together they worked to bring drama and ambiance to this production.
There are moments that recall joy and laughter, like the sisters’ wildly uproarious dance which begins around the cramped kitchen and spills out into the hard scrabble yard. The strength of this production, however, is its ability to invite us into a small kitchen in Ireland and crush our hearts.
Dancing at Lughnasa continues at the Lee Playhouse on Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16, at 8 p.m., and Nov. 10 and 17, at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $6 for youth under 16. Group rates are available for 12 or more. For reservations and further information, call the Lee Playhouse at (804) 734-6629