Quite a looker

Nevada Rep’s Dancing at Lughnasa is rich in detail

Rated 3.0

I’ve been described as “detailed- oriented” by acquaintances, “perfectionist” by friends and “anal” by those nearest and dearest to my heart. But I’ve got nothing on the Nevada Repertory Company.

Nevada Rep redefines the attitude of “sweating the small stuff” with its phenomenal set for Dancing at Lughnasa, shown in the Redfield Studio Theatre at the University of Nevada, Reno, Church Fine Arts Complex. A hearty round of applause should be given for scenic designer Larry Walters and his production staff after each performance.

As you walk into the black-box space, you’ll notice right off that you’ve got to watch your step; a light brown mesh fabric on the floor extends out toward the audience like an amoeba, creating the illusion of a dirt yard. Little lumpy hills and sprigs of greenery complete the illusion.

The mesh extends from the focal point of the set, a cozy kitchen. Pseudo-brick “walls” rise to only a foot or two around this room, so the audience can simultaneously watch the action inside and outside. A wood dining table, several chairs, a pot-bellied stove and other pieces of furniture create an atmosphere inside the kitchen that feels lived in, not theatrically artificial. Topping off the set, literally, is a leafy branch hung high above the stage.

More kudos go to the costume department. I’m no expert, but if 1930s Irish working-class garb doesn’t look like this, I’ve been sufficiently duped. What’s more, the characters wear the outfits well, as if they’re perfectly at home in them—another testament to good costume design.

Of course, no play can succeed on sets and costumes alone. It starts with a script, penned by Brian Friel. Dancing at Lughnasa explores themes of disintegration, especially the break-up of the family and unrealized dreams. The play also illustrates Friel’s belief that humanity needs a connection to the primitive, rather than the artificial constraints of civilization.

The five Mundy women—Kate (Terri Gray), Rose (Susan Lingelbach), Maggie (Kimberlee A. Pechnik), Chris (Debby Reiser) and Agnes (Chamaea C. Tausch)—maintain an uneasy peace in their family home until the arrival of Father Jack (Bill McCandless). Jack is returning after 25 years of missionary work in Africa, where instead of converting the heathens, he appears to have been converted himself.

The scandal of Jack’s behavior is taking its toll on the Mundys, who have already weathered the storm of disapproval caused by the birth of Michael (played as an adult narrator by Brian Barney). Michael is the love child of Chris and a kind-hearted but irresponsible father, Gerry (Bradford Ka’ai’ai), who pops up every once in a while to sweep Chris off her feet before disappearing again.

Dialect coach Priscilla Hagen did a fine job teaching the cast an Irish brogue, which lent much credibility to the dialogue but made it difficult to follow at times. This was exacerbated when actors failed to project clearly for the black-box forum, and there were times when I missed a good chunk of dialogue.

Perhaps this contributed to my overall impression when I left the theater; I enjoyed myself, but I wasn’t affected emotionally, which is rare for a sniveling softy like myself. My companions for the evening agreed that they had “spaced out” for most of the narrator’s lines, something I found myself doing as well because of the effort it took to hear the speaker and interpret the accent.

The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about Nevada Rep’s performance is "pleasant," which is not a bad thing—pleasant and pretty can make for an enjoyable evening at the theater.