Irish playwright Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa," a 1992 Tony Award-winner, is getting a sturdy, finely acted Los Angeles County premiere from singular productions at Ivy Substation.
It's not hard to see why no larger group has tackled the project. Friel's memory play is a triumph of high craft and subtle emotions, a well-calibrated slice-of-life lacking the dramatic fireworks audiences might expect from a Broadway favorite.
The story takes place near an Irish village during the summer of 1936, when the five Mundy sisters are at a crossroads in their drab lives. Unmarried, the aging women dream of dancing at the midsummer festival of Lughnasa.
In Friel's capable hands, this dream becomes a symbol of a deeper and mostly unexpressed sexual and emotional longing--a yearning that explodes into a mesmerizing, cathartic dance midway through Act I and then slowly, sadly, fades from view.
Supremely attuned to the play's gentle rhythms, director Allison Liddi has coaxed nicely modulated performances from virtually every cast member. Mimi Champlin and Gail Godown are especially fine as Kate, the rigid leader of the clan, and Maggie, the earthy jokester. And Patrick McGowan is intriguingly inscrutable as Michael, who narrates this complex tale as an adult looking back on his childhood.
* "Dancing at Lughnasa," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 22. $17. (310) 558-1555. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.