"Dancing at Lughnasa" - by Brian Friel - Calliope Productions and Pilgrim Soul Productions (Boylston, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" a joint venture by Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through March 17, 2024. Photo Credit: Karen Josbacher)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“I wash every stitch of clothes you wear. I polish your shoes. I make your bed. We both do – Rose and I. Paint the house. Sweep the chimney. Cut the grass. Save the turf. What you have here, Kate, are two unpaid servants." 

                                   - ("Agnes") / Brian Friel


Calliope Productions

in partnership with 

Pilgrim Soul Productions

Presents Brian Friel's


Written by Brian Friel 

Directed by Matthew Carr

Choreography by Karen White

Cast Includes: Dave Clark as "Michael," Lorna Nogueira as "Kate," Emma MacKenzie as "Maggie," Sarah Kipp as "Agnes," Kelly McCue as "Rose," Nicole Rawson as "Chris (Christina)," David Foster as "Father Jack," Ian Dowell as "Gerry Evans." 

Additional Creative Team:

Stage Manager - Susan Nest; Set/Lighting/Sound - Dave Ludt; Scenery Painter - Nancy Stevenson; Costumes - Donna Reidy.


March 7, 2024 through March 17, 2024 

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)

CALLIOPE THEATRE, 150 Main Street, in Boylston, MA.

Tickets: https://www.ticketstage.com/T/CALLIOPE

Contact the Box Office at 508-869-6887


Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

As we near another St. Patrick's Day, Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions have joined forces, in a spirited collaborative effort, to present Brian Friel’s heartfelt Tony award-winning, "DANCING AT LUGHNASA." 

Described as a “memory play,” "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" feels as if it has been around forever although it is only about 35 years old. 

That said, in that relatively brief time, it has quickly become a favorite staged property among many theatres. 

Premiering in Dublin, Ireland in 1990, "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" transferred to London's National Theatre in 1991, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play. 

Subsequently, it would head to Broadway where, in 1992, it won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as being nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play

"DANCING AT LUGHNASA" would later be adapted, in 1998, into a motion picture starring Meryl Streep

(Photo: Emma MacKenzie as "Maggie" in a more pensive moment in a scene from Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" a joint venture by Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through March 17, 2024. Photo Credit: Karen Josbacher)

"DANCING AT LUGHNASA" was inspired by the lives of Friel’s own mother and aunts, who lived in County Donegal

The story takes place in 1936 Ireland, in the fictional town of Ballybeg, home to the “Mundy Family." 

As this “memory” is recalled, we listen as an adult Michael Evans (Dave Clark) begins narrating. 

Clark is completely in sync with the character of Evans and, through Evans recollections, the overall poignancy of Friel’s play convincingly shines through. 

There are also several extensive monologues delivered by Clark which he recites in exemplary fashion. 

Evans regales us with the story of his days (really Friel's days) as a lad living with his mother, aunts, father and uncle in their miniscule, rustic, insulated environment. 

The family is shown facing multiple struggles and by "struggles" let's be clear:

This isn't a family challenged by when the WiFi goes out. (By the way, at the start of the play, as Evans recalls the family getting their first "wireless," he is NOT discussing Roku).

This is a family daily facing arduous obstacles that many of us would find unimaginable by today's domestic standards.

Yet, back then, such obstacles were simply typical of everyday rural existence, especially with industrialization eliminating some local jobs (arguably creating others) and a second World War looming.* 

(*Note: although Ireland was attacked by Germany a few times, being ill-equipped at the time to reciprocate in any battles, Ireland remained mostly neutral during the war).

(Photo: Lorna Nogueira as "Kate," and Dave Clark as "Michael" in a scene from Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" a joint venture by Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through March 17, 2024. Photo Credit: Karen Josbacher)

Although quiet at times, Friel’sIrish stew” of a play begins to simmer in its pot courtesy of a fury of not-so-subtle Irish temperaments. 

The fierceness comes from this family who never seem to be shy about expressing their various opinions, individual frustrations and communal regrets. 

Even with this bristling, there is also an ingredient of some wickedly guttural humor added to Friel’s semi-autobiographical stewpot. 

As everything comes to a boil, we soon find ourselves overflowing with compassion for this family, becoming invested in what happens to them. 

Evans brings us back to an August in 1936, as his family prepares to attend the Pagan festival of "LUGHNASA" celebrating the Celtic “God of the Harvest” ("LUGH"). 

Director Matthew Carr has adeptly staged the show, keeping the overall single set design relatively basic.

We see a rustic room filling most of the stage with an old-style radio (aka the "wireless" or "Marconi") nearby to which people can listen. 

The use of a projected image displaying a small Irish farm landscape adds to the authenticity of the time and place in which "LUGHNASA" exists. 

There is also some fine detail work on the set with some carefully selected period-specific items that get used throughout the show. 

Costuming for the show and some added blocking of everyday household chores of the time period also confirms the meticulous attention to detail.

(Photo: The CAST of Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" a joint venture by Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through March 17, 2024. Photo Credit: Karen Josbacher)

The eldest of the five “Mundy” sisters, Kate (Lorna Nogueira), serves as (what would today be described as) the “helicopter parent” of the others in the home. 

The above might seem a bit strange to some (as all but one of the "spinster" sisters is well into their 30s) and the dynamic itself is about to hit a major crossroads, as the story advances.

Nogueira gives an effervescent performance as the combative, stern and argumentative Kate, not shy about expressing her disapproval at almost everything anybody else does. 

Then, conversely, Nogueira shows us the deep compassion Kate feels within for them all, despite her blustery outward appearance. 

Kate is probably also most responsible for the others not marrying as she wants to keep them all home, safe, and not wandering off too far away from their deeply held Catholic faith. 

Kate’s exuberant sister, Maggie (Emma MacKenzie), keeps the house in order while Kate is out working as a teacher, particularly in the area of fixing the family meals. 

Portraying Maggie, referred to as the “joker of the family,” MacKenzie relieves much of the tension as she must sometimes step in as peacekeeper between the sisters, in particular between when younger sister Agnes (Sarah Kipp) argues with Kate. 

This is a never-ending occupation that ultimately takes its toll, as we soon discover but MacKenzie gives one of the strongest, most layered performances in the production. 

While Agnes and her younger sister, Rose (Kelly McCue), earn a few dollars through their knitting, Kate’s teaching job is the only thing bringing in any significant income into the home.

Nevertheless, each sister is proud of what contributions they DO make to the household and tell Kate just as much and in no uncertain terms. 

As Rose, whom everyone adores and tries to protect, McCue conveys a marvelous unbridled innocence and enthusiasm; while Kipp‘s Agnes counters well by being more stoic and protective of the far more naïve and trusting Rose. 

(Photo: Lorna Nogueira as "Kate," (right) watches as Kelly McCue as "Rose," Sarah Kipp as "Agnes," and Nicole Rawson as "Chris (Christina)" enjoy themselves in a scene from Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" a joint venture by Pilgrim Soul Productions and Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through March 17, 2024. Photo Credit: Karen Josbacher)

The youngest of the sisters, Chris (Nicole Rawdon), is the unwed mother of young Michael. 

Rawdon is sweet and charming as Chris who beams whenever Michael’s father, Gerry (Ian Dowell), a Welsh rogue and fast-talking traveling salesman, shows up on the family’s doorstep. 

As Gerry, Dowell is quite charismatic and, although Gerry does seem to have a “wee touch of the Blarney” in him, he also seems to have genuine affection for Chris. 

Yet, Kate is clearly distrustful of Gerry, only seeing gloom and despair in the future for her sister Chris and ongoing disappointment for her young nephew, Michael. 

The sisters’ brother, Father Jack (David Foster), is the oldest in the family.

Jack served as a missionary priest, leaving home while Chris was just a baby to go and do the Lord’s work at a leper colony in Uganda, and now Jack has returned home after 25 years.   

Foster portrays the mentally fragile Father Jack with great sensitivity and sincerity. 

Jack’s memory seems quite clouded at times - but we don’t know immediately as to why nor the reason he has returned home. 

A huge contributing factor to the success of this production is in the use of authentic sounding accents. Not every actor masters this particular regional dialect, yet a valiant attempt is very much apparent.  

Ultimately, though, where does the actual “dancing” part of "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" come into play? 

Well, this isn't "Riverdance,so don't come expecting much Irish step dance (although, one might also find themselves surprised by one cast member's apparent skill in this area).

As explained and demonstrated so well in the story, supplemented by some fine choreography by Karen White, the dancing is a way for the characters in "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" to lighten the mood and entertain themselves. 

The dancing also serves as a metaphor for the love they feel for one another and better to celebrate what they have as a family now - for it will never come again.

"DANCING AT LUGHNASA" continues in Boylston until March 17th (St. Patrick's Day) and, to borrow from an Irish expression, "if your pockets have a coin or two inside" spend them here as it is definitely worth your time.

Coming soon to Calliope Productions will be the hit musical tribute to "B" movies, "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS" by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman beginning in May 16, 2024

For tickets and more information, visit https://www.ticketstage.com/T/CALLIOPE or contact the Box Office at 508-869-6887

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 




Set in the fictional Irish village of Ballybeg, Ireland, "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" is a memory play, told from the perspective of an adult Michael. 

He recalls one summer he spent at his aunts' home when he was seven years old. 

The five Mundy sisters, all unmarried, live in a big cottage just outside of the small village. 

Kate, the eldest, is a schoolteacher; Agnes and Rose knit gloves and help keep house with Maggie and Christine (Michael's mother), who have no income at all. Their older brother, Jack, has also recently returned home. 

Jack is a Catholic priest, who has lived in a Ugandan leper colony for the last 25 years, working as a missionary. He is suffering from malaria and has trouble remembering many things, including the sisters' names and his English vocabulary. He has also clearly lost his faith and has a deep respect for pagan traditions and beliefs, much to Kate’s distaste. 

Meanwhile Michael's father, Gerry, pops in and out of his son’ life, keeping Michael and Christina on tenterhooks as to whether he will ever settle down with them. Gerry is charming and completely unreliable.

During the summer of 1936, Michael watches on as his aunts' search for and find the potential for love--only to lose it as the hardships of life begin to cripple them. 

As the summer ends and Kate loses her job (and subsequently the family’s financial security), the sisters face the breakup of their family unit and a future filled with heartache and tragedy. 

Brian Friel's multi award-winning "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" is a masterpiece, portraying the strength and bravery of five sisters who dance wildly in a final celebration of their lives, before they change forever. 


CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS is a year-round non-profit theatre company founded in 1982 that serves the needs and interests of audiences and performers in the Central Massachusetts region. CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS presents six main-stage productions each year, and operates performance training workshops for students (ages 9 - 18) and adults. CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS is a member of the American Association of Community Theatre, the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theatres and the Worcester Cultural Coalition.


150 Main Street

Boylston, MA 01505