Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dancing at Lughnasa

Two weeks ago Friday I went to a play. The last time I remember going to a play was with my third grade class in South Carolina. We saw a silly version of Cinderella that I absolutely despised. This play however, was much different than the one from so many years ago. It was called Dancing at Lugnsasa and was being put on by theatre department of the university I'm attending so consequently it was free to all college students. (Say whaa??) I didn't go alone of course and went with my boyfriend and two others.

Somehow muscadines have become synonymous with an idealized past and despite their disappointing taste brings with them a comforting sense of belonging. 

Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel, is a story told by Michael Evens who is looking back on the summer of 1936 when he was a wee boy of seven living in a small cottage with his mother and four aunts in the quaint town of Ballybeg, Ireland. He tells us how he adored his uncle, but when his uncle comes home from his missionary work overseas, the boy is disappointed because he doesn't match up to the hero he had always imagined him to be. Father Jack, as the uncle was called, suffered from malaria causing him to forget his sisters names and much of his vocabulary. Michael's mother and four sisters also had problems to deal with. They were poor and the sisters worked at home making things to sell and the eldest as a teacher. Christina, the boys mother had a unstable relationship with her son's father who occasionally visited with empty promises. One sister was in a relationship with a married man and another pined for a lost love. As the summer goes on and Father Jack slowly recovers both his health and his words it increasingly becomes apparent that he had left the Catholic faith. Towards the end of the season a factory is established and two of the sisters can no longer sell their handmade goods. The eldest loses her job as a school teacher apparently because her reputation within the devout Catholic community has been compromised by her brother's apostasy. With the family on the verge of both relational and fiscal disaster the two youngest sisters abandon the family leaving no trace. As an adult Michael tracks down his two oldest aunts and the little information he uncovers about the other two is disheartening as he finds they have died alone all but homeless on the streets. He discovers that his father was a married man who left behind a wife and children, and even another "love child", as Father Jack termed it, like himself by yet another woman. In the end Michael reflects and tells us that with the good memories from that summer so many years ago comes the looming sense of unrest he felt as a child. The good times are always overshadowed by all the troubles, and somehow in his memory, those troubles are personified by Father Jack.

Throughout the play there were many lines that stuck me personally. I wish I could remember them specifically for y'all. It was late at night and I was pretty tired. Towards the end I rested my head on my boyfriend's shoulder and closed my eyes. Mostly because I was sleepy but also because as the actor was delivering the closing lines, my soul was in the process of healing. My memories are just like Michael's. I remember so many happy times caught in a perfect picture ready for me to smile upon at any moment. In looking at all those happy pictures though if I take the time to put them within context I find, just like Michael does, a shadow. As those last lines echoed through the theatre I felt God's peace come over me. It's okay that my memories are tinged.

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