Monday, October 28, 2013


Sisters are always popping up on the page and on the stage, from Shakespeare's Weird Sisters in Macbeth to Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in King Lear, Chekhov's Three Sisters, the March girls in Little Women, the Southern Gothic Magrath sisters in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, Wendy Wasserstein's New York Jewish Sisters Rosensweig, and last summer's Fail sisters at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, who found their place in Chicago in the 1920s.

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa has five sisters, not three, and they're in Ireland, not Russia. Still, it's hard not to see the similarities between Friel's women and Chekhov's. The eldest works too hard and is a schoolteacher and one of the others is smitten with an impossible love. Both sets of women are stuck somewhere provincial and suffocating, somewhere they don't want to be, and money and gender pay big parts in who can do what and go where. Each family also has a brother, and he brings complications that only make their lives more difficult. And yet... Chekhov's women are so very Russian. And Friel's are so very tied to Ireland.

Plus Lughnasa is a memory play, as our narrator, a man named Michael, steps back into the childhood he remembers, with his image of his mother and her sisters what we see on stage. There's another factor that sets the Mundy sisters apart, too, in the poverty that pervades their humble abode. Money may be a problem for the Prozorovs, but it's a grinding reality for Kate, Maggie, Rose, Agnes and Christina Mundy. But what makes Lughnasa stand apart is neither the memory play issue or the financial distress they're in. Instead, it's the sense of joy in the midst of that poverty, of dancing even when the soles of your shoes are wearing very thin.

Dancing at Lughnasa began its life in Ireland, as you might expect, in a very well-regarded production at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1990. Much of the Irish cast traveled with the play to London and then New York, including Brid Brennan, who won a Tony Awards for her portrayal of Agnes. That production also took home Tonys for the play itself and for director Patrick Mason.

The Cusack sisters (Sorcha, Niamh and Sinéad -- who've also done Three Sisters, by the way) appeared in a 2009 London revival, while Meryl Streep joined Brid Brennan for the 1998 film version.

Lori Adams directs Dancing at Lughnasa for Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts in performances from November 1 to 9. Robert Johnson will play Michael, the narrator who steps back into his youth, with Faith Servant and Natalie Blackman as Agnes and Rose, and Ronald Roman as Gerry, the dashing Welshman who comes back into Christina's life at all the wrong times. Johnson, Servant, Blackman and Roman are all part of ISU's new class of MFA actors. Fiona Stephens will play Kate, the oldest and most responsible sister, while Jaimie Taylor takes on Maggie, the one who likes to laugh. Rounding out the Mundy family, Elsa Torner will play Christina, Michael's mother, and Arif Yampolsky will play Father Jack, the brother who went to Africa as a priest but came back very much changed..You can see all the details here including how to get tickets.


  1. Hi Julie,

    This is Michael Cotey, director of Treasure at IWU. I wasn't sure how to get a hold of you but I wanted to check-in and see if you were planning on coming to see Treasure this weekend. It runs Thursday through Saturday. Feel free to email me at and I can get you a show image, details, etc.



  2. Michael, you can email me directly at