Dancing at Lughnasa

“It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.” -Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa weaves the story of five unmarried sisters eking out their lives in the small village of Ballybeg in Ireland in 1936. Set during harvest time in County Donegal, the story revolves around the five Mundy sisters who range in age from twenty-six to forty. They live together with the youngest sister’s seven-year-old son, and their brother Jack a missionary priest repatriated from Africa by his superiors after 25 years. In depicting two days in the lives of this family, Friel evokes not simply the interior landscape of a group of human beings trapped in their domestic situation, but the wider landscape – internal and external, Christian and pagan – of which they are a part. Widely regarded as Friel’s masterpiece, the play honors the spirit and valor of the past.

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Brian Friel

Born in Northern Ireland in 1929, Brian Friel is considered to be one of the greatest living English-language dramatists. Friel is best known for plays such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Dancing at Lughnasa but has written more than thirty plays in a career spanning six-decades. Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) brought Friel great acclaim internationally, winning him several Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It was also turned into a film in 1998, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by County Donegal playwright Frank McGuinness. His plays have been a regular feature on Broadway throughout this time. In addition to his published plays, he has written short stories, screenplays, film, TV and Radio adaptations of his plays and several pieces of non-fiction on the role of theatre and the artist. Friel’s plays have premiered and been produced at prestigious venues like the Abbey Theatre, London’s West End and Broadway and have been highly successful everywhere. His first major play, Philadelphia, Here I Come! was the hit of the 1964 Dublin Theatre Festival. After co-founding Field Day Theatre Company with actor Stephen Rea in 1980, Friel was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature by the National University of Ireland in 1983, and, in 1987, was nominated to the Irish Senate.  Field Day sought to find a middle ground between the traditional culture of rural Ireland and the more secular culture of the north.  Plays such as Dancing at Lughnasa deal with this divde, and through the five Mundy sisters Friel explores an Ireland where tradition, religion and modernity meet head on. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Times in 1999. Brian Friel lives in County Donegal.

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