'You couldn't ask for more' in Dancing at Lughnasa

Elora Nelson and Chas Calam rehearse a scene from In Your Eyes Projects production of Dancing at Lughasa. Rehearsal at Community of Christ Church in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (BRIAN KELLY/THE SAULT STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK)

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Dancing at Lughnasa prompted Michael Hennessy to move to the director’s chair one more time.

Hennessy, the driving force behind Family Life Theatre, helmed what was expected to be his final show in March 2016. Neil Simon’s The Last of the Red Hot Lovers featured Chas Calam, Dympna Hennessy, Darla Pirillo and Skye Stewart.

Hennessy was excited to see Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa launch the 2018-2019 season for In Your Eyes Projects. That group’s co-director, Joe Lauzon, initially asked Hennessy if he could consult on the Irish playwright’s 1990 work. That request was upgraded to asking Hennessy to direct the season opener.

Being Irish, how could I say no?” he said at a rehearsal on Wednesday night at Community of Christ Church.

Friel’s semi-autobiographical work centres on five sisters living together in Ireland in 1936. Kate Mundy (Colleen Leavy) is a teacher and acting head of the family after the mother and father have died. Rose Mundy (Courtney MacDonald) has a developmental disability. Christina Mundy (Elora Nelson) has a son, Michael, who is seven. What happens in the play is relayed by an adult Michael. Some memories are real. Others are faulty. Michael’s father, Gerry Evans (Andrew Naphan), keeps entering and exiting Christina’s life. Agnes Mundy (Randi Houston Jones) knits gloves. Maggie Mundy (Kaila O’Callaghan) runs the household.

Times are tough for the siblings. The return of their brother, Father Jack (Chas Calam), doesn’t help. The Catholic priest has served as a missionary in Uganda for more than two decades. He’s sent back home when he distances himself from his faith. His change in religious belief puts Kate, the main wage earner, at risk of losing her job.

It’s not bleak,” said Hennessy of Dancing at Lughnasa. “It’s what theatre is all about. Every aspect that you want in theatre is in this play. You got music. You’ve got dance. You’ve got drama. You’ve got comedy. You couldn’t ask for more.”

Leavy (Lizzie Borden, Legends) worked with Hennessy on a one-act play, Melody, in 2007. Other attempts to work together didn’t pan out until now. She contacted him “immediately” when she learned he was directing Dancing at Lughnasa. Leavy was first given Friel’s script more than a decade ago. She’s waited for a chance to appear in the play ever since.

This is like a dream come true,” said the president of Chippewa Theater Guild in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Dancing at Lughnasa marks O’Callaghan’s return to the stage after nearly a decade. She last appeared in Sault Theatre Workshop’s Having Hope at Home in 2009. O’Callaghan (nee Wyslocky) lived in Ireland for about two years, earned her master’s degree in applied linguistics, married and had a daughter.

She read Friel’s play when she was consumed with Ireland as a teen.

You can’t be obsessed with Ireland without learning about Brian Friel, the playwright, because his work is seminal there,” said O’Callaghan. “The women in this play are so beautiful and complex and powerful and strong. They have such adversity and they live in a time when they have very little power and they have very little of their own choices to make. I think as a woman who’s grown up in a different time and a different place I think I just have such a respect and admiration for the stories of these women.”

O’Callaghan’s Maggie often gets the funniest lines in the show, but she sees more to her character than just a jokester.

I think there’s a really deep sadness underneath Maggie,” she said. “To me, she’s quintessentially Irish in that they have this ability to get on with it in the face of lots of adversity and struggle. Underneath all of that lightheartedness and laughter is someone who’s full of loss and longing.”

Calam estimates he’s done nearly 30 shows with Hennessy including Opening Night, Self-Help, Run For Your Wife and Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.

He may be best known for his comedic roles, but he welcomes a chance to appear in dramas such as West Side Story and Caesar: Death of a Dictator. Appearing as Father Jack offers audiences “a different side of Chas Calam,” he said. “I think (Dancing at Lughnasa’s) got two of the great scenes that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be part of.”

Dancing at Lughnasa runs Oct. 17-20 at The Tech. Tickets, $30 adults, $25 seniors and $15 students, are on sale at Community Theatre Box Office at Station Mall or online at www.saultctc.ca

Oct. 12

Flashback at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn;

Mike Yurich at Road House Bar and Grill;
Algoma Fall Festival presents Soulpepper Theatre’s The 27 Club at The Machine Shop. 8 p.m. $39 adults, $25 students. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Office at Station Mall or online at
www.saultctc.ca

Oct. 13

Jazz jam with Josh Norling at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn. 4:30 p.m.

Five Below Zero at New American Tavern;

Reptiles at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn;

Jay Aymar at The Tech. 8 p.m. $30;

My Son the Hurricane at Canadian Bushplane Heritage Museum. $25.

Oct. 17

Pink Floyd tribute act PIGS at Sault Community Theatre Centre. 7:30 p.m. $45 plus tax. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Officeor online at www.saultctc.ca

Oct. 20

Over the Rainbow Children’s Entertainment presents Red Sky’s Mistatim at Sault Community Theatre Centre. 2 p.m. $18 adults, $15 children plus box office fees. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Office at Station Mall.

Oct. 22

Classified at Soo Blaster. 7:30 p.m. $30 or $90.

Oct. 24

Sault Theatre Workshop presents The Gin Game at Studio Theatre. $29 adults, $27 seniors, $19 students. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Office at Station Mall.

Oct. 26

Algoma Fall Festival presents Ashley MacIsaac at The Machine Shop at 8 p.m. $45 adults, $29 students plus HST and surcharge. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Office or online at www.saultctc.ca

Oct. 27

Rocky Horror Picture Show screening at Grand Theatre fundraiser for Rainbow Camp. 7 p.m. and midnight. Tickets on sale at Case’s Music or online at www.eventbrite.ca

Nov. 1

Algoma Fall Festival presents Mary Walsh at Sault Community Theatre Centre. 8 p.m. $45 plus HST and box office surcharge.

Nov. 10

Sault Symphony Orchestra with violinist Victoria Jones at Sault Community Theatre Centre. 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 17

Algoma Conservatory Concerts presents Ensemble Caprice at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn. 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 24

Craig Cardiff at LopLops.

Dec. 1

Over the Rainbow Children’s Entertainment Series presents Millan and Faye at Sault Community Theatre Centre. 2 p.m. $18 adults, $15 children plus box office fees. Tickets on sale at Community Theatre Box Office at Station Mall.

Dec. 5-9

Sault Theatre Workshop presents Alice in Cuckoo Land at Studio Theatre.

May 8

Soo Sings for Kids at Sault Community Theatre Centre.

Submit events to btkelly@postmedia.com by Wednesday noon.

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