WELLSBORO - Hamilton-Gibson Productions is putting a little drama in its 2014 season with its upcoming "Dancing at Lughansa."
Brian Friel's semi-autobiographical drama will have 7:30 p.m. performances on April 4, 5, 11 and 12, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on April 6 at the Warehouse Theater, 29 Center St.
Set in a fictional village on the west coast of County Donegal in late August, 1936, "Dancing At Lughansa" is based loosely upon the lives of the playwright's mother and aunts.
Shown is Thomas Putnam of Hamilton-Gibson.
It is late summer right before the Celtic harvest festival Lughnasa, as the play focuses upon the impoverished lives of the five Mundy sisters, all unmarried, who live together in a modest cottage. The household dotes upon 7-year-old Michael, the "love child" of the youngest sister. Michael does not appear on stage as a youngster, but his presence is alluded to by the other characters.
The middle-aged Michael acts as the play's narrator, not only dictating the action as it goes on, but also revealing the futures of the five sisters.
Recently returned home for undisclosed reasons is their frail brother Jack, a longtime missionary in a leper colony in Uganda. Suffering from malaria and memory loss, Jack has "gone native," apparently having abandoned much of his Catholicism, which the sisters suspect may be the reason he was sent home.
The sisters' poverty and financial insecurity is a constant theme. So are their unfulfilled lives, none of the sisters having married, although it is clear that three have had suitors whom they fondly remember. Now before the bitter harvest, the sisters with forgiveness and courage dance wildly as the wireless plays an Irish jig in a final celebration of their lives before everything changes forever.
Despite winning the Oliver Award in 1991 (England's equivalent of the Tony) and Broadway's Tony Award as "Best Play" in 1992, "Dancing at Lughansa" is a barely recognizable title (except perhaps to theater buff). So why did Hamilton-Gibson pick this drama which does not have much if any box-office appeal?
"It's one of the most beautiful memory plays I've read or seen," said Thomas Putnam, H-G's long-time artistic director. "It centers around an unique family desperately trying to hold together in the midst of some very rough times. And it's Irish!"
Speaking from his office, Putnam also noted that H-G's play selection committee is operating under a directive during the 2014 season which (unlike other community and college theaters' September-May "season") follows the calendar, with all theatrical shows and concerts presented between January and December.
"This year, parameters were set that all Main Stage shows are to 'explore family connections.' A play like 'Dancing ...' certainly fits the bill," he said.
A deftly structured ensemble drama,"Dancing at Lughansa" has won acclaim for its storyline, which is often sad but equally charming.
"Think of one of those haunting ballads and you'll get a sense of the play. And then add a few rousing Irish reels and you'll have an even better sense. I first saw this play on Broadway when it came out in 1992," Putnam said. "It's still vivid in my memory after all those years." The deftly structured ensemble drama is often sad but also charming.
Tickets are on sale now through the box office at 570-724-2079 or www.hamiltongibson.org. Reduced prices are offered on the first Saturday showing and the Sunday matinee offers a "pay what you can" fee.