Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Chrysalis Stage Emerges in Hollywood with Irish Memory Play
Chrysalis Stage, a small professional theater company operating in Whittier, has taken their show on the road. For Brian Friel’s haunting, Tony-winning play “Dancing at Lughnasa” they are splitting their run between The Complex in Hollywood and their more traditional home, dubbed “The Little Vic,” on the stage of the Vic Lopez Auditorium at Whittier High School.
The move to Hollywood offers a rare opportunity to watch this company work in a conventional theatrical setting, rather than in a sort of “theater in the oblong” dwarfed by the huge empty auditorium at its back, that the Little Vic provides. The result allows for some greater subtleties and a differing balance between audience and actor. This differing venue may also highlight a few lost opportunities one might not have noticed in the other, more cramped space.
The play itself has become for many theatergoers the image of 1930s Ireland, as the Damoclesian sword of modernization combines with the depression and the provincialism of small towns to tear a close-knit family apart. Actors love it for the chance to play characters whose emotional intertwinings are echoed each time these sisters struggle with their recalcitrant radio: music as metaphor for life force.
“Dancing at Lughnasa” has been done quite a lot, lately, perhaps for those reasons. Still, it is a tale told with a sense of impending doom. Perhaps there is some sense of appropriateness to our own dark times.
The Chrysalis production offers the solid, and solidly ensemble cast so necessary to such a character-centric tale. Except for a few slips of the brogue, they give a convincing sense of the very unity which Michael, the narrator of this memory play, misses from his youth.
The five sisters of the Mundy family must be seen as a group. Done right their interplay becomes a living organism. Under director Aaron Morgan, this is largely achieved.
Gwendolyn Lewis gives a tense precision to Kate, the family’s major breadwinner and its most educated member, upon which the rest can pivot. Andrea Gwynnel Morgan vibrates with energy and the dry humor Maggie must have to run the house. Suzy Harbulak offers a gentle integrity as the quite, hopeful Agnes.
Molly Leland gives Christina, Michael’s unwed mother, a kind of romantic idealism and genuine charm which makes it obvious why she is the one swept off her feet to the point of pregnancy. Helen McElwain makes the earnest but dim Rose a balance of innocence and independence which underscores her sisters’ concern for her.
Donal O’Sullivan doesn’t quite seem as feeble-looking as one expects, but as the Mundy brother – a returned missionary priest home under a cloud – his enthusiastic obliviousness to his own situation seems awkwardly genuine. ZackaRya Santoro proves innately charming as the ne’er-do-well salesman who is Michael’s father. A somewhat stolid Gino Costabile still makes a credible Michael, looking back on the simpler world he knows is about to vanish.
What seems missing, and that not always, is union between these characters and the music on their quixotic radio – the abandon it allows which they struggle to keep hold of. There are times when things simply feel too static. Particularly at the end, one wishes for one last hint of that most essentially Irish movement, as a definition of what has been lost, because those losses are as physical as they are emotional.
Still, the pacing of the piece is sharp, and this “Dancing at Lughnasa” offers much to recommend it. It will be very interesting to see how they can adapt this particular staging to the Little Vic. The need for physical expression may be even more pronounced in that stage’s comparatively multi-directional space.
What: “Dancing at Lughnasa” When: through August 28 in Hollywood, September 8 – 17 in Whittier: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays and September 8 at 7 p.m., September 11 performance at 2 p.m. Where: In Hollywood, The Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.; in Whittier, Victor Lopez Auditorium, 6700 Whittier Ave. How Much: $20 general, $15 seniors, $12 students with ID Info: (323) 960-7711 or http://www.chrusalisstage.com