By JON KAPLAN
Brian Friel's Dancing At Lughana is a sometimes touching, sometimes comical story of a family in the small Irish community of Ballybeg, where in 1936 a newfangled radio is a prized possession and respect in the community is an intangible that's no less prized.
We meet the five Mundy sisters and their brother, a missionary recently returned from Africa. All the women are unwed, though one, Chris, has a son, Michael, whose father, the charming Gerry, occasionally visits the village. It's the grown-up Michael who plays narrator here, and though the other characters speak to the boy Michael, he's only an invisible presence.
The writing is wonderful, and Friel has created some sharp characters, especially the ebullient Maggie and the prim Kate. The latter functions as the stern, controlling father in this household, while the former is the peace-making mother figure who tries to joke her sibs into good humour.
In this production by MollyMae, the roles are played by some of the cast's strongest performers. Suzanne Bennett's Maggie is full of humanity, while Kerry Ann Doherty's Kate is all rigid angles, though she can occasionally reveal heartfelt concern for her family.
Too bad the Annex Theatre is small; it makes the dance that the the sisters break into -- one of the finest scenes of the play -- a constricted rather than a liberated moment.
Whether it's a matter of rehearsal time or lack of experience, first-time director Abbey Mendelson hasn't woven the performances into a fully realized whole. Individual moments work, but I have little sense that these people have lived together for years as a family. The most effective group scene comes in the second act, when the slow Rose (Mackenzie Muldoon) returns from a meeting she wasn't supposed to have, and the sisters gather around her physically and emotionally.
David Phillips captures Gerry's charm -- though not his supposed dancing ability -- and Morgan Jones finds poignancy in Michael's memories.
I wish the production had a longer run; some of its rockiness would be smoothed out with more playing. The last two performances are today (Sunday, November 18), 2 and 7 pm, at the Annex Theatre (736 Bathurst). 416-534-3904. If you've seen the show in our listings, note that there's an error in the price -- tickets are not $49.50 but $25. And if you plan to go to the matinee, allow some extra time because of the Santa Claus parade.