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‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ Tells of Hardships, Courage, and Joys in 1930s Ireland

January 27, 2016

Dancing At Lughnasa Article

Passionate Storyteller: Scott Blankenbaker brings the play’s central character of Michael to life in the Rose-Hulman Drama Club’s winter production of “Dancing at Lughnasa.”

Rose-Hulman’s Drama Club will transport its audiences to the Celtic harvest season in 1930s Ireland during presentations of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” opening on Friday, January 29, at 7:30 p.m. in the Hatfield Hall Theater.

Filtered through the lens of childhood memories, “Dancing at Lughnasa” recalls the summer of 1936 and a family’s struggles, courage, and joy in in the fictional town of Ballybeg, in Ireland's County Donegal. The story, as told by Michael Evans, involves the lives of his unmarried mother and her four older sisters who raised him.

Senior engineering physics and mathematics major Scott Blankenbaker brings Michael’s character to life on stage.

“This role lets me be a storyteller. I get to move between exposition loaded with emotional depth and being lost in my own memories, and I get to interact directly with the audience in a way few shows allow,” he says.

The play marks Blankenbaker’s 16th Rose Drama Club production. He most recently portrayed Benedick in this year’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“As an actor, this is a great chance to grow. It’s a character piece. It’s the first play we’ve done in years that’s a drama, and it has real impact,” adds Blankenbaker, who took drama classes at his high school in Carmel, Indiana.

Alia Robinson plays Michael’s bawdy aunt Maggie, the joker of the family who brings a levity into the struggles of living in poverty.

“Maggie’s sarcasm makes her a fun character to play…she cares deeply about her family, and she is often the one to dispel interpersonal conflicts. She prefers to be happy with what she has, rather than dwell on what she doesn’t,” says the junior software engineering student.

The story is told through Michael’s memories as a 7-year-old, and the “show presents these memories as exactly that, without concerning itself with telling an absolute truth,” remarks Blakenbaker. “My favorite thing about this play is how it’s what Michael believes is a faithful retelling of his youth, but contains elements that might be–but aren’t clearly–exaggerated, omitted, or inferred.”

Director of Theatre Programs Terence Hartnett suggested that although the show tackles the hardships, longing, and injustice of the Mundy sisters’ struggles, Michael’s story also highlights “glorious moments of transcendence when joy and meaning, however fleeting, blazed one last time for the sisters in the late summer days of Lughnasa.”

For Robinson, the beauty of the story is in the telling, rather than the conclusion.

“I think that ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ is a deeply touching play, partly because the story itself isn’t the most striking thing about it,” she says. “Michael, the narrator, tells the audience in a straightaway fashion how the characters’ lives end up. You don’t watch the play to find out what happens in the end. You watch to experience the characters’ lives, and see how they get to where they end up.”

Theater patrons are invited learn more about the play by attending an opening night pre-show reception and theater circle discussion on Friday, January 29, starting at 6:30 p.m. in Hatfield Hall’s Alumni Center. English professor Julia Williams will provide background on playwright Brian Friel and the many nuances of Irish literature.

After Friday’s opening night, other performances are planned on Saturday, January 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, January 31, at 2:30 p.m., along with next Friday and Saturday, February 5-6, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for all shows are $15 for adults and $10 for youth. Patrons may purchase tickets at www.hatfieldhall.com or in person through the ticket office in Hatfield Hall or by calling 812-877-8544, Tuesday through Friday, from 11 a.m.to 5 p.m. The ticket office is also open two hours before each performance. Tickets and complete show information are available at hatfieldhall.com.

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SHOW INFORMATION

Rose-Hulman Drama Club – Dancing at Lughnasa

January 29-30/February 5-6 -- 7:30 p.m.
January 31 -- 2:30 p.m.

Hatfield Hall Theater

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
5500 Wabash Avenue

Tickets: $15 for adult and $10 for youth. Hatfield Hall ticket office hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.to 5 p.m., and two hours before each performance