Through all life's struggles, the bonds of family can help keep despair at bay. That's the lesson of "Dancing at Lughnasa," opening this weekend at The Empty Space.
For director Mendy McMasters, the show has long been on her list of dream shows.
Her goal for audiences is for them to feel "transported to 1936 Ireland and see a glimpse of what life was like back then."
Despite the historical setting, the story is highly relatable.
"They are people we know," she said. "They are our family and friends, these beautifully rich, well-written characters."
And what drives them still motivates us today, she said, noting, "We still want connection and love and a future."
"Dancing" centers on narrator Michael Evans (Brian Purcell) as he looks back at a time of great change when he was 7 years old. Two major events helped unsettle his life: the return of his uncle, Father Jack (Jared Cantrell), and the appearance of his father, Gerry (Eric Tolley).
Jack has just returned from missionary work in Africa with a case of malaria and with some questionable religious practices. He struggles to readjust into the household of his sisters — Kate Mundy (Sheila McClure), Maggie Mundy (Kamala Boeck), Agnes Mundy (DeNae Iona Brown), Rose Mundy (Katelyn Evans) and Christina Mundy (Cristina Goyeneche), who is Michael's mother.
Meanwhile, Gerry stops in from his job as a gramophone salesman. He seems to have more convictions about joining up to fight in the Spanish Civil War than settling down with Christina to raise his son.
As the situation grows more dire for the sisters — a knitwear factory opens, killing the hand-knitted glove work that supports Agnes and Rose and Kate's job teaching is threatened by lack of pupils but also association with her now-pagan brother — they look to each other for support.
"The biggest question that the play brings up is how do we survive these big moments of transition in our lives?" McMasters said. "How do we move forward when we know change is imminent and we can do nothing to stop it?"
"We’ve all been through that — death and birth and changing jobs and moving. I've got this big thing that is happening and how do I get through it?"
The Mundy family shows us it can be through "dance and song and a connection with people, a connection with our families," McMasters said.
McMasters is excited to share this show with audiences, noting that along with some of the best actors in the community the cast includes former, current and future theater students of hers from Cal State Bakersfield.
"Having all those wonderful talented people together has really been a joy."