HT Preview: IU theater season opens with drama

By Joel Pierson, H-T Theater columnist
Sep 11, 2016


Kathleen Cox (Rose)

What’s a Lughnasa, you might be asking this week, and why are people dancing at it? Well, for one thing, it’s the first play of Indiana University’s new theater season, a 1990 drama written by Brian Friel.

A few years back, “Dancing at Lughnasa” was turned into a film with Meryl Streep, but then again, what hasn’t been? (Remember the whole Julia Child thing? I think they made a movie out of a cookbook or something! But I digress.) A story like this has to be experienced live, and the good folks at IU are more than happy to make that happen for you.

Lughnasa is an Irish harvest festival, a time of great joy, typically, which would inspire the dancing. (To say it properly, each “a” should be voiced as “eh,” so it comes out sounding like “LOO-neh-seh.” ) Was the playwright punning on the word “lunacy”? Perhaps. In fact, in 1999, a Chicago theater company created a parody called “Chancing at Lunacy.” But let’s examine the plot.

“Dancing at Lughnasa” is the story of five sisters in the Mundy family, all unmarried and living together in a cottage near the fictional town of Ballybeg in Ireland. We learn their stories through an adult narrator named Michael Evans, whom we learn is sister Christina’s son. He shares his memories of living with the five women in the summer of 1936, when he was 7 years old. The action of the play all takes place within the family cottage. Events from the outside world are shared verbally.

Also in the mix is the girls’ brother, Jack, a missionary who is back from 25 years working in a leper colony in Uganda. He’s quite ill now and has forgotten important things like this sisters’ names and some basic English. The others begin to suspect he was sent home for a very good reason.

The play touches on themes of poverty and unfulfilled dreams, which, I will grant you, does not add up to a laugh riot, but it doesn’t try to be one. And sometimes it’s important to view the drama and the challenges of others, to remind us that there’s more to life than the troubles we experience ourselves.

The good news is Friel does it well. The play has won an Olivier Award, two Drama Desk Awards, a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and three Tony Awards, including best play. So it’s safe to say that you’re in capable hands. The same is true of your IU cast and crew. Director Dale McFadden leads a cast of eight, including Ashley Dillard, Chris Handley, Meaghan Deiter, Emily Sullivan, Kathleen Cox, Tess Cunningham, Matthew Murry and Jason Craig West.

It’s good to see another IU Theatre season underway. It means autumn can’t be too far off. We welcome our student actors back, and we hope you’ll come out to see them express themselves on stage once again.

Contact Joel by sending an email to with “Pierson” in the subject line.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “Dancing at Lughnasa” by Brian Friel

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23–24, 27–30, Oct. 1; 2 p.m. Oct. 1

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Read this story and more Bloomington Arts news at The Herald Times online.


About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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