Dancing at Lughnasa Viterbo University

By Kim Seidel 

In the midst of winter comes “theatre at its very best” to awaken any sagging spirits. Remarkably, that’s no exaggeration for this masterpiece, “Dancing at Lughnasa,” beautifully and perfectly written by Ireland’s most famous and one of the world’s best playwrights, Brian Friel (1929-2015).

“That in and of itself is a great reason to attend this play,” says director Rick Walters, associate professor of theatre at Viterbo University. “It’s such a pleasure to experience it.”

A Viterbo University production, “Dancing at Lughnasa” will be performed the first two weekends in February. Shows Feb. 3-4 and Feb. 10-11 are held at 7:30 p.m. at Weber Center for the Performing Arts in downtown La Crosse. Friel’s poetic and intense work is known for its warmth, generosity, and tender examination of the human spirit, and this play promises not to disappoint audiences. It’s a memory play, one of his great contributions to the theatre, Walters says. The story takes place within a three-week period, unfolding through “the narrator who recalls the memories that offer themselves to him at the impressionable young age of seven,” he says.

With its universal themes of love, family, and the pursuit of a better life, the show will transport audiences back to late summer 1936 to Ireland’s imaginary village of Ballybeg, a setting often used in Friel’s plays, one resembling where he grew up. The small cast of five female and three male students is set to deliver a powerful performance about a family living in genteel poverty during a period of great change. The play focuses on the lively, strong women characters, how they deal with tumultuous times in their personal and outer worlds, Walters says. 

Friel is known for his distinctive blend of melancholy and humor, and “Dancing with Lughnasa” is filled with nostalgia and stark reality, spanning three weeks as the Mundy sisters prepare for their village’s harvest celebration. Their brother, a priest, returns from a mission and reminds his sisters of their desperate need for community, happiness, dancing and celebration. 

Weber Center offers the ideal venue for “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Along with a talented cast, community members Ben Golden, lighting designer, and Kit Mayer, scenic designer, make professional contributions to the production, as well as costume designer Megan Gunderson, a Viterbo theatre student.

As a bonus, an Arts in Context discussion with the director and performers will be offered immediately following the performance in the theatre on Feb. 4. No doubt there will be plenty to talk about. 

UW-La Crosse Brings Musical 

In another theatrical production later in February, “Company” audiences can enjoy a musical with an array of comical scenes to chase away any cabin fever that might be settling in. 

Directed by Mary Leonard, Stephen Sondheim’s musical production portrays a stubborn bachelor, Robert, who begins to contemplate his unmarried state on the evening of his 35th birthday. Robert’s friends point out the pros and cons of having a spouse. Through dinners, drinks, and yes, even a wedding, the habitually single man is forced to question his tight grip on bachelor status. 

The show, presented by the UW-La Crosse Theatre Arts Department, runs Feb. 24-26 and March 2-5.