On Friday, the Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance will open its production of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” written by Brian Friel and directed by head of ISU acting department, Lori Adams.
“Dancing at Lughnasa” is a memory play, told from the perspective of Michael Evans, played by MFA Acting Candidate Robert Johnson, about a summer spent with his aunts, uncle, mother and estranged father. Senior acting major Fiona Stephens gives details about the show, such as her role in the play and the set up of the stage.
Tell us about the premise of this show.
The plot of “Dancing at Lughnasa” is about five sisters, all unmarried. It is not an action-packed play. In describing it, I can’t say, you know, there’s a giant robbery that happens and it dislodges their lives because that’s not true.
It’s all from the perspective of Michael, the illegitimate son of the youngest sister, Chris, played by junior acting major Elsa Torner. Jerry Evans, the father of her child comes into the picture at one point, and the older brother, Jack, played by senior acting major Arif Yampolsky, comes back after 25 years from Uganda, where he was doing a mission as a priest. The sisters have not seen him since he left.
Though the memories Michael shares are from a time when he was young, he talks in one of his monologues about how he starts to see things around him as less rose-colored than he thought they were. You start to see these little hairline cracks in these people and in this family, and it’s sweet, it’s funny and it’s sad. There are so many lovely people in the show.
Part of the message we’re going for is that this is not a story specific to Ireland. The relationships in this play are the high points. These are people who you probably know. You can look at these people and even though they are in 1936 Ireland, you know them and what they are going through.
Tell us about the character you play in the show.
Kate is 40-years-old and the oldest sister. I am the most religious, and I have also been supporting the family for 20 years. I am the only one who makes any money. I am a schoolteacher — a strict, proper schoolteacher. There is a lot of change that happens in the play, I kind of represent the old world and the “wonders” of colonialism. Every time someone mentions a new idea to me it is immediately “poo-pooed” and brushed aside.
I have heard something different is being done with the Center for the Performing Arts (CPA) stage in order to best accommodate the nature of this show. Can you elaborate on that?
The house that it’s in is set in an interesting orientation in the CPA.
Usually in the CPA, you would have the stage facing out into the audience and you would have the proscenium arch.
Instead, the edge of the stage marks the backdrop of the set and everyone sits on the back wall of the stage and on the sides. All of the seating and set are on the stage. With this show, they wanted to have a bigger audience, which you can’t have in Westhoff, but they wanted it to be an intimate show.
The house built on the set is just beautiful; it’s very rustic. There is grass all around, made from Astroturf we bought from football fields.
I am curious about these five sisters all living together. How is it that none of them were ever married?
There was the potential for a couple of them to, but it didn’t happen, and it’s not even that they messed up; sometimes other people intervened in a negative way. Chris of course has her son Michael with Jerry and Jerry comes back twice throughout this play.
Michael will come into moments sometimes and lets you know how they end, so it’s a memory play, but you get to be inside and outside the memories.
Tickets for “Dancing at Lughnasa” can be purchased on Ticketmaster, at the CPA box office or by calling the box office at (309) 438-2535.