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Danielle Nigro, left, Mary Dziekowicz and Stephanie Herlihy star as three of the five Mundy sisters in "Dancing at Lughnasa." The play, directed by Elizabeth Mozer, premieres at 8 p.m. Friday, March 4, at Watters Theater, and runs through March 13.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
‘Lughnasa’ focuses on family ties
March 2, 2016Tweet
Stephanie Herlihy was thrilled to look at the cast list and see that Mary Dziekowicz, Mollie Teitelbaum, Danielle Nigro and Emily Mahoney were joining her as the Mundy sisters in the Theatre Department’s production of “Dancing at Lughnasa.”
“I’ve looked up to them and watched them in (previous) shows, so I was excited to build that chemistry,” said Herlihy, a junior psychology major from Manhattan. “Our chemistry is constantly growing stronger.”
The five student-actors already feel like sisters, said Dziekowicz, a senior theatre major from Utica who added that she did not know Herlihy and Teitelbaum well before rehearsals began.
“Where have you been all of my life?” Dziekowicz asked them.
“I just love working with these girls,” she said. “They are so easy to work with. The amount of respect we have for each other is wonderful. Everyone clicked easily.”
The sisterly bond will be featured when “Dancing at Lughnasa” takes place on the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. March 4-5, 11-12 and 2 p.m. March 13. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students ($5 on opening night).
Written by the late Brian Friel, “Dancing at Lughnasa” is a memory play set in poor, rural Ireland in 1936. The narrator, Michael Evans, recalls a story of being 7 years old and living in a cottage with the Mundy sisters: his mother Christina (played by Herlihy) and aunts Maggie (Dziekowicz), Rose (Teitelbaum), Kate (Nigro) and Agnes (Mahoney).
The play takes place around the Lughnasa (a Celtic harvest festival) as the sisters welcome home their older brother Jack (played by Alex Jaloza), a priest returning from Uganda. The combination of Jack’s return and the end of the festival mark a pivotal point in the lives of the sisters.
Elizabeth Mozer, an assistant professor of theatre and director of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” said the play is “a great work for students to tackle.”
“It’s a time period that’s not represented on stage very often,” she said. “The language of the play is lyrical and poetic. It is based in the culture and the time, so it gives students an opportunity to stretch themselves as actors.”
Music and dance are key components in the play. The sisters have a Marconi radio that plays a variety of music from the era. This leads to eruptions of exuberant dancing from the Mundy women. Their spontaneous jigs and reels are welcome releases that take them back to happier days before the Catholic Church frowned upon dancing.
“When they burst out in dance, it’s like breaking shackles,” Mozer said. “When words cannot express, the dance and music do. It allows for deeper, soulful – perhaps inexpressible – things they are not willing to say or are frightened to say.”
Herlihy agreed, adding that the precision of the dance steps parallels the strict rules that the Mundy sisters follow in their lives.
“The step dancing allows us to follow the rules and break them at the same time,” she said.
While the cast members learned Irish step-dancing for the show, the technical training was not as important as the sisters’ desire to simply let go.
“For me, this play doesn’t mean you have to be able to dance,” Dziekowicz said. “You have to be able to express yourself. That’s what this kind of dancing is about. It comes from the emotion rather than the technicality.”
“I was so nervous about the dancing,” said Teitelbaum, a sophomore double major in comparative literature and philosophy from Searingtown. “But learning the steps helped me build my character in a way that I never expected. I never thought Irish steps could come so naturally. Now they do!”
Mozer praised the cast for learning dance and dialect (the latter with the help of theatre Professor Anne Brady). She also saluted the cast members for embracing an unfamiliar era.
“There’s no TV or telephones. There’s no other people – the sisters are insular,” Mozer said. “It’s a challenge for any contemporary actor to imagine that kind of world. But it’s so fun to do because it’s a stretch. They use their skills as actors to imagine this world.”
The student-actors said they are able to become part of that world by digging deeper into the play’s text and working as a team.
“We talk a lot about how poetic the language of the play is,” Teitelbaum said. “We pull out the narration lines and discuss what they mean for the feel of the play. I’ve learned that listening and watching the scenes I’m not in – along with reading the text that I can’t hear when I’m onstage – is valuable.”
“Supporting one another is important,” Dziekowicz said. “We have a lot of things we could be frustrated about in the play – dialect, dancing, the lines. But everyone is supportive, no matter what. It’s a good environment to be in.”
The Mundy sisters and “Dancing at Lughnasa” offer a universal lesson for audience members, Mozer said.
“There’s always a part of our lives that we can cherish no matter how difficult things are or may seem to be,” she said. “There is so much to cherish – moments in our lives that are incredible gifts of conviction, joy, celebration, courage and meeting hardship with a sense of humor.
“Because Michael the narrator is looking back 25 years later, he has the luxury of hindsight. (The play) can remind us that we don’t have to wait 25 years to see the beauty in our lives and cherish the ones around us.”