Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Dancing at Lughnasa
Stage Left Productions
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Frankenstein and Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

Kathryn Katsikis, Veronica Harris, Rachel Weiss,
Cindy Pruett, and Katie Komos

Photo by Rodney Rickard
Dancing at Lughnasa is a heartfelt drama that explores the complexities of family, sisterhood, and the bittersweet poignancy of shared memories and familial bonds. With a wonderful cast and clear direction, Brian Friel's lyrical award-winning play is beautifully brought to life at Stage Left Productions in an engaging and at times profoundly moving production.

The plot focuses on the lives of five sisters living in rural Ireland during the summer of 1936. The play is narrated by Michael, the illegitimate child of one of the sisters, Chrissy, and it unfolds as a memory play set against the backdrop of the Lughnasa festival. The sisters continually struggle with the harsh realities of their lives, but there are also moments of joy, laughter, carefree dancing, and the music that comes in through their radio, when it's working, to take their minds off of their troubles. The arrival of their elder brother, recently returned from a mission in Africa, and a visit from the father of Michael disrupt the delicate balance of their existence, stirring memories, desires, and a poignant sense of fleeting happiness.

Brian Friel's evocative storytelling delves into the themes of family, tradition, and the changes that come with the passage of time. Friel's semi-autobiographical play won many awards when it first premiered over 30 years ago and his characters and plot still resonate today.

Cody Dull's direction delivers a fluid production with crisp pacing that allows the serious moments to resonate and the humorous ones to shine. The cast all deliver well thought out performances rich in detail and nuance with Irish accents that are easy to understand and fairly consistent throughout.

Cindy Pruett, Katie Komos, Kathryn Katsikis, Rachel Weiss, and Veronica Harris vividly bring the Mundy sisters to life with an extraordinary blend of authenticity and chemistry. All of these five women shine with well thought out portrayals that capture the complexities of sisterhood, seamlessly transitioning between moments of joy, friction, and deep sisterly love. Cindy Pruett is excellent as Kate, the appropriately stern and opinionated schoolteacher who takes responsibility for the family. Katie Komos is lovely as the spirited and playful Maggie. Kathryn Katsikis evokes a lovely sense of innocence as Agnes. Rachel Weiss is wonderful as Rose, the excitable younger sister who has a childlike innocence and somewhat simpleminded nature. As Chrissy, Veronica Harris projects a lovely sense of independence but also much complexity when it comes to her relationships with her sisters and with Michael's father.

Chris Ulbrich delivers heartfelt narration as Michael, the grown-up son looking back on his memories. Ulbrich's ability to convey a sense of longing and reflection, as well as the sad reality of what happened to the members of his family, adds an emotional depth to his narration. In smaller roles, Taylor Aldridge as Gerry, Michael's father, and Ian Laue as Jack, the brother who has come back home, add interesting layers to the narrative.

Dull's set design and the prop design by Wendi Taylor beautifully capture the essence of the Mundy home, with superb attention to detail in re-creating the rural Irish setting. Dull and Christi Gray's wonderful costumes and Amber Ryan's effective wig designs are period and character appropriate. The lighting by Rene Lovecraft helps focus the attention appropriately throughout.

Dancing at Lughnasa is a stirring drama that centers on the unique and complex relationships of the Mundy sisters. Watching the shared laughter and struggles of this family draws you into their world and makes you care deeply for each character. The well-cast and warmly directed production at Stage Left Productions delivers a heartfelt and authentic exploration of family, memories, and the relentless march of time.

Dancing at Lughnasa runs through October 21, 2023, at Stage Left Productions, 11340 West Bell Road, Suite 105, Surprise AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 623-285-6321

Director/Set/Sound Designer: Cody Dull
Lighting Design: Rene Lovecraft
Prop Design: Wendi Taylor
Costume Design: Cody Dull and Christi Gray
Wig Design: Amber Ryan

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Michael Evans: Chris Ulbrich
Kate Mundy: Cindy Pruett
Maggie Mundy: Katie Komos
Agnes Mundy: Kathryn Katsikis
Rose Mundy: Rachel Weiss
Chrissy Mundy: Veronica Harris
Gerry Evans: Taylor Aldridge
Jack: Ian Laue