Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“DANCING AT LUGHNASA” –New Village Arts Theatre
“YOU NEVER CAN TELL” – Moonlight Stage Productions
AIRDATE: MARCH 14, 2008
Come with me to the British Isles of generations past, where families come together and come apart, social systems are in flux, and there are plenty of laughs to hide the pain. In this merry month of March, two appealing productions contain more than a nip of the Irish.
One is a farcical comedy, written by an Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, who reveled in poking fun at his English brethren. The drama, written by the acclaimed Irish playwright Brian Friel, pays homage to the spirit and stubbornness of his countrymen. Both plays are concerned with contrast and change.
Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” was written and set on the cusp of the 20th century. Romantic love collides with scientific rationality. Ardent, stiff-necked feminists clash with foolish, frivolous roués. Class snobbery is turned on its ear. And after a series of ridiculous coincidences, a father is found, wrongs are righted and love conquers all. More or less.
No such happy ending for “Dancing at Lughnasa,” a touching memory play, told from the perspective of Michael Mundy, an out-of-wedlock child raised by his mother and four spinster aunts in a remote part of County Donegal. He recalls the summer of 1936, when Michael was 7, and his aunts had just acquired a temperamental but much-loved radio that they fondly called Marconi. Music plays a prominent role here, both the sacred and the profane. Two staunch ideologies come head-to-head: the strict Catholicism of the family’s lineage and the paganism of the annual Festival of Lughnasa, a celebration of the harvest diety. The sisters are confounded by their befuddled brother, recently returned from 25 years of missionary work in Africa, where he embraced the decidedly un-Christian customs and ceremonies. Change is coming: the Depression looms, and the War. Only music calms the sisters’ unsettled souls. They may lack possessions and provisions, but these stalwart women have a boundless supply of forgiveness and hope.
Friel’s writing is gloriously poetic, and the Irish accents are nicely handled by a stellar ensemble at New Village Arts. Sadly, the pagan rituals are under-emphasized, which undermines the play’s central contrast. But when the sisters dance with rare abandon, releasing their long-repressed passion and joy, it’s a magical moment.
The magic is in the language of Shaw, too, though “You Never Can Tell” isn’t one of his deeper or more satisfying works. But at Moonlight Stage Productions, a forceful and comical cast, beautifully costumed, ratchets up the energy, humor and sheer silliness, while underscoring the endlessly amusing universals of class and gender warfare.
So, if you’d care to get drunk on words this St. Paddy’s Day season, there’s nothing more intellectually intoxicating than Friel or Shaw. Bottoms up!
“You Never Can Tell” runs through March 23rd at the Avo Theatre in Vista.
“Dancing at Lughnasa” continues through March 30th at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2008 PAT LAUNER