What follows is an adapted version of the liner notes I wrote in the production program of Dancing At Lughnasa which I recently directed. The production closed on May 18 2002.
"Careful, if you breathe, it breaks." Laura
"The play is memory, and being a memory play, it is sentimental, it is dimly lit, it is not realistic."
both quotes from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
"I'd always heard that your entire life flashes in front of you the second before you die. First off, that second isn't a second at all. It stretches on forever like an ocean of time . . . you have no idea what I"m talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry .. . you will."
Lester from American Beauty written by Alan Ball
Brian Friel's gentle and poetic narrative seeks to capture the fragile and imperceptible line standing between nostalgia and history. "Dancing At Lughnasa" does not seek to be a documentary. It is not based so much on harsh reality as say McCourt's "Angela's Ashes".
The six adult siblings as viewed through the retrospective eyes of the adult narrator Micheal all share the common bond of blood, time and space. Their collective sense of love, compassion and interdependence makes them, I believe true heroes. In every family, there comes a time when the unit must break apart and each member must find their own independent way. the struggle against inevitable change, while it may appear foolish to some, I find admirable in the poetic sense. This struggle appears to provide the family with a history, a sense of place and purpose. Ultimately they find thier identity within the bird's nest ( in Friel's play, the hen house). The family also serves as the proving found. It defines, strengthens and completes its members. Perhaps in history before the radio of Marconi, the family found itself able to sustain and even thrive in one place.
Friel appears to use Dancing At Lughnasa as a vehicle for freezing in memory the final time before a family splinters off.
Memory often proves a decietful beast. Frequently we all remember things as we wish them to exist. This almost always contrasts with the factual. Micheal (Friel's alter ego) desires to hold this specific moment in time the way he wants to remember it, as an idealized image forever frozen in glass. Who really can blame us (and Micheal) for favoring nostalgia over fact? For like some sort of cruel trick, we amost never realize our key life events until long after they have played out.
The play's earthy philosopher Maggie even states, "just one quick glimpse-that's all you ever get. And if you miss that . . ." Dancing At Lughnasa serves as Friel's quick glimpse at a moment long gone.
Lughnasa is not a play of simple entertaiment. It is a complex work of art, filled with personal revelations, symbols and ideas that work together to reveal universe. It is a great play because it holds up to close reading and scrutiny. Enjoy and savor.
- Paperback: 80 pages
- Publisher: Faber Plays; Main edition (1 July 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571144799
- ISBN-13: 978-0571144792
- Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 0.6 x 19.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 68 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 432,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)