17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
"Dancing...the very heart of life and all its hopes.",
This review is from: Dancing at Lughnasa (Paperback)
Set in Donegal in 1936, during Ireland's change from an agrarian to a more industrial economy, Brian Friel's haunting ensemble drama of five sisters and their priest brother reveals the economic, social, and religious pressures in the rural community of Ballybeg on the eve of the harvest festival of Lughnasa. Forty-ish Kate, who sees herself "in charge," is the only real wage earner in the family. Rigid, severe, and completely lacking in humor, she believes pagan celebrations, such as Lughnasa, which provide fun and enjoyment in the countryside, are "uncivilized." Her brother Jack, however, a priest on furlough from work in Uganda, is now virtually a pagan himself. His work has shown him the need of the poor for happiness, dancing, and community celebration, even if it is not church-sanctioned.
The other Mundy sisters help illustrate the chasm between Kate's attitudes and those of Fr. Jack. Maggie, the fun-loving, free-spirited, and most humorous of the sisters, constantly bursts into song and dance and longs to go to the town dance. Christina feels no shame whatever about her love-child and thoroughly enjoys the summer visit of his father, Gerry Evans, with whom she dances spontaneously. Aggie and Rose, who earn small wages knitting gloves, work tirelessly as the family's sad, "unpaid servants," constantly chafing against Kate's imposition of her own values on them. Rose, described as "simple," is in love with a married man and sneaks out to have fun with him. When the local priest fails to rehire Kate because of Fr. Jack's apparent paganism, the family is devastated, but it is at that moment that they recognize the need to celebrate life itself.
The narrator is Michael, Christina's love-child, now in his fifties, who sets the scene and comments on the action throughout. Though Michael himself participates in the action as a child, the child is invisible to the audience. The characters speak to him as if he were real, and the adult Michael responds, but to the actors on stage, it is the narrator who is invisible. The message of the play is far stronger here than in its film version, starring Meryl Streep. In the play Kate is more hostile, and the fates of Aggie and Rose are revealed early, not withheld till the end. Fr. Jack's paganism is not regarded simply as mental illness, and the "clan of the round collar" is held to closer scrutiny. The play, though dark, is ultimately a joyful celebration of life itself, a life not bound by organized religion. Mary Whipple