Religion, escape and dancing with abandon

Tara Bradbury
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Beothuck Street Players present ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre this week

Jennifer Nakashima (left) and Heidi Coombs-Thorne star in Beothuck Street Players’ production of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” running at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Wednesday to Saturday. — Submitted photo

On the surface, Beothuck Street Players’ latest production is about the relationship among five sisters in rural Ireland in the 1930s.

On a deeper level, it deals with Paganism versus Christianity and breaking free from a life of limitations.

The Players are presenting “Dancing at Lughnasa,” a play by Brian Firel which debuted at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1990. Set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, County Donegal in August 1936, the piece is centred around five sisters — Kate, Maggie, Agnes, Rosie and Christina — who live together on a small farm. One of the sisters has a seven-year-old son, Michael.

The sisters’ brother, Jack, a priest, returns home from Africa, having abandoned much of his faith while there. Gerry, Michael’s father comes back, as well.

“They’re very caught up in the traditional world, with at least one dominant personality among the sisters,” explains director Clar Doyle.

Pagan festival

“The pagan festival is called Lughasa, built around a Pagan god called Lugh, and the sisters really want to go dance in this festival, but their expectations and sense of responsibility and all that dangerous stuff forces them to stay in their place.

“It’s a lot about breaking free, and it’s a lot about expectation and hope and, in a sense, life being limited.”

The play is told by a narrator: Michael, grown up and speaking from memory.

The Players get creative in presenting the long-past scenes, using amber lighting and slow motion. Hints of the Lughnasa fires in the hills are also depicted.

Amidst the dialogue, there are scenes where the sisters break into dance; dancing with abandon rather than choreographed steps.

“We all have stories, though they might not be as severe and constrained as this,” says Doyle.

“The play is seen through memory (of the narrator), and one of the points he makes is that memory is never real or true or definite.

We see how the world that he viewed over a two-week period is coloured by his memory as a seven-year-old.”

“Dancing at Lughnasa” stars Krysta Rudofsky, Patricia Andrews, Heidi Coombs-Thorne, Jennifer Nakashima, Jacinta Graham, Jerry Doyle and Darryl Brenton.

Tickets are $22 ($19 for seniors and students) and are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office or online at

Twitter: tara_bradbury

Organizations: Abbey Theatre

Geographic location: Ireland, Dublin, Ballybeg Africa

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