Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Dancing at Lughnasa
A Public Fit Theatre Company / Vegas Theatre Company
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Robert's Interview with Ted Chapin

Annette Houlihan Verdolino
and Tina Rice

Photo by Ann-Marie Pereth
If Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Chekhov's The Three Sisters had a love child, it would be Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, a wistful memory play about five unmarried sisters living hand to mouth on the outskirts of a tiny Irish village during the 1930s. Widely considered to be Friel's best work, Dancing at Lughnasa took home both the Olivier and the Tony awards for Best Play.

The memory in question belongs to Michael Evans, the out-of-wedlock offspring of Chris, the youngest sister, and the charming but peripatetic Welshman Gerry Evans. The events of the play take place when Michael is seven years old, being raised in a poor but loving home by his mother and aunts, with occasional drop-ins by his wandering father. The culture of Catholicism–enforced by eldest sister Kate–combined with patriarchy and English colonialism has deprived the Mundy sisters of much of life's enjoyment, including the local harvest dance. Dancing is too pagan for good Irish Catholics, although when the stress gets to be too much, the sisters burst into exuberant dances in the privacy of their home (at least when their wireless radio, named "Marconi," cooperates).

It is 1936, a watershed year for this family. Their older brother Father Jack has returned home after decades attending to lepers in Uganda. At first he appears ill and feeble minded, but as he recovers his strength it appears that he has changed in other ways that fundamentally imperil his sisters' place in the community. Their meagre livelihood is under threat as well, on several fronts.

Despite the somber themes, there is plenty of warmth and humor in Friel's play. This co-production by A Public Fit and the Vegas Theatre Company, directed by Barbara Brennan, captures that complex mix of emotions well. It is securely anchored by two of Las Vegas' most outstanding actresses: Annette Houlihan Verdolino as Maggie and Tina Rice as Kate. The production's most riveting moments are in their simple, quiet conversations–the two oldest sisters, complete opposites in personality, but rock solid in their devotion to family. Also impressive is Timothy Cummings, who convincingly portrays Father Jack's transition from addled invalid to iconoclast. Jacob Moore delivers a strong turn as Gerry, the epitome of blarney, a traveling gramophone salesman with a killer smile and a pocketful of promises who charms and disappears and then returns to charm again. Playing Michael as both adult and child (which sounds odd but works quite well), Wilam Fleming Tarris brings strong stage presence and understated emotional power.

The production comes up short, however, in its portrayal of the three younger sisters. While all three actresses are capable, their casting leads to confusion about the characters' ages, which creates dramaturgical problems. For example, the free-spirited Rose comes across as a young and foolish teenager rather than the developmentally disabled 32-year-old woman in Friel's script. This undermines our understanding of the sisters' predicament as well as some important plot points.

The play's Irish setting is well conveyed. Dialect coach Brandon Burk has done an admirable job of helping the actors maintain consistency in their Irish accents. Eric Koger's set design is full of details befitting a rustic Irish cottage, most notably the hearth, playing its central role both functionally and metaphorically. It would have been nice, though, to have a bit more open space for the sisters to kick up their heels when their dancing fever takes hold.

Shortcomings aside, the production nails its final tableau, where the adult Michael's emotional farewell hits all the right notes, as he and his aunts–now a distant memory–sway gently to music.

Dancing at Lughnasa runs through April 29, 2024, at the Vegas Theatre Company, 1024 S. 1st St., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, Saturday, April 27 at 2pm, Monday, April 29 at 7 pm. Tickets $35-40. For tickets and information, please visit

Michael: Wilam Fleming Tarris
Chris: Carmen Maher
Maggie: Annette Houlihan Verdolino
Agnes: Coco Lane Rigbye
Rose: Ashlee Grubbs
Kate: Tina Rice
Gerry: Jacob Moore
Jack: Timothy Cummings

Additional Creative
Choreographer: Ann-Marie Pereth
Lighting Designer: Johanna Caley
Costume Designer: Kendra Faith
Sound Designer: Constance Taschner