This weekend Rude Mechanicals presents “Dancing at Lughnasa,” a story of five unmarried sisters facing the inevitable unraveling of their family.
Written by Brian Friel, “Dancing at Lughnasa” is set in Ireland, in the summer of 1936, during the pagan Festival of Lughnasa. “Lughnasa” is a memory play, told by the narrator Michael, who recounts the events of that summer at the cottage in Donegal. “Lughnasa” explores the complexities of the family’s tense relationships, such as the sisters struggling with poverty and instability. The play also highlights the importance of Catholicism in Ireland and the threat emerging paganism posed.
“Lughnasa” first premiered in 1990, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1991 it starred in London’s National Theatre, earning the original cast three Tony Awards including Best Play.
With only three and a half weeks to put on this production, Rude Mechanicals is working hard to bring this story to life.
Rude Mechanicals is a student theater troupe that aims to provide quality stage productions to the Ann Arbor area. The organization emphasizes the importance of allowing any member of the student body to participate in the productions, whether onstage or behind-the-scenes. The organization was founded in 1996, by two engineering students who realized there were few opportunities for non-theater students to contribute to campus productions. Rude Mechanicals provides opportunities for students in the School of Music, Theater and Dance to try out roles they wouldn’t otherwise be able to explore.
“This opportunity allows students to explore other facets of themselves artistically rather than being confined to the thing they decided to major in when they were 18 years old — it’s an amazing thing,” said director Regan Moro in an interview with the Michigan Daily.
Moro explained the play’s focus on memory — the way it shapes us and frames our lives. In this play, the unraveling of the family is depicted through Michael’s memory of the events.
“The play encompasses so many different things, on the most basic level, it’s a story about a family that is on the precipice of falling apart,” Moro said. “It’s also a play that examines the religious, political, and social atmosphere of Ireland.”
The piece examines how memories change form and frame our outlook, depending on what we choose to hold onto. Moro said some memories are fact-based and some are distorted by our own perception of the event. Michael’s narration walks the audience through these depictions.
“The last memory I think we all have (in this play) is loss of our last glittering memory,” Moro said, “a memory of our family before everything dissolved.”
Memory and its importance also translate to the technical design of this show.
“There are certain details of a place, people or of things that stick out to you more than others,” Moro said, describing ideas shaping the production’s set and lighting.
The lighting parallels Michael’s recounting of events — bulbs light up above certain characters as Michael remembers them. Moro described these lights as ominous and a way to highlight the back and forth nature of the plot. Memories are given a bluer tone, while the present has more pale, realistic lighting. These colors are shown through costuming as well.
“There are bits of blue and green, a union of sky and the earth,” Moro said. “There is something mysterious and mystical about these colors that lifts it out of the drabness.”
Moro also stressed that all members of the team — cast, assistant director and director — have worked together equally to figure this piece out, rather than dividing positions of power.
“There’s no hierarchical thing,” Moro said. “We have ripped that down and it is all of us working together.”
With thematic complexity, deep character relationships and a collaborative, insightful cast, “Lughnasa” has plenty to offer.
“The play is full of depth, and it’s intricate and complex, and I still feel like I’m learning more and more about it, every single day,” Moro said. “It’s an enormous gift to work on something like this, especially because you feel like the growth never stops.”