Jim Luongo chose the play, Dancing at Lughnasa (loo-nah-sah) by Irish playwright, Brian Friel: he recruited a wonderful cast and crew, and offered three performances last weekend, each of which was well attended and beautifully and movingly performed.
The story, loosely based on Friel’s life in Ireland, is told by Michael, who looks back on his boyhood to when he was seven. The play opens with an adult Michael who says, “When I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936 different kinds of memories offer themselves to me.” (Friel was born in 1929, which makes him seven years old in 1936.)
Michael distinguishes between the ‘kinds of memories’ that offer themselves to him – not simply the variety of things he remembers, but the kinds of memories, as he explains in his closing speech: “And so, when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me. But there is one memory of that Lughnasa time that visits me most often; and what fascinates me about that memory is that it owes nothing to fact. In that memory atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory.” (italics added)
He says, “In that memory, too, the air is nostalgic with the music of the thirties. It drifts in from somewhere far away – a mirage of sound – a dream music that is both heard and imagined; that seems to be both itself and its own echo; a sound so alluring and so mesmeric that the afternoon is bewitched, and maybe haunted by it.
“When I remember it, I think of it as dancing. Dancing with eyes half closed because to open them would be to break the spell. Dancing as if language had surrendered to movement – as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness. Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in those assuaging notes and those hushed rhythms and in those silent and hypnotic movements. Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary…” The lights are dimmed and the play ends.
This is our season of remembering – from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve. When I cast my mind back to my childhood I realize that atmosphere is more real than actual incidents; I’m not able to distinguish between the actual experiences I shared with family and friends and the feelings that accompanied the events, the emotions that are attached to them – the emotions which live beneath the surface – that are awakened by remembering, and there’s a point where words are neither adequate nor necessary.
Lughnasa is the feast of the pagan god, Lugh, god of the harvest. Memory provides a harvest feast that can assuage the pain of grief and loss – not so much by recalling the actual incidents that are stored in the rational area of the brain, but by calling forth what is stored in the heartfelt region of the mind – the soul, if you will.
May there be quiet times during this hectic, demanding, confusing season when you cast your mind back to heartfelt places where sadness and joy merge as one to heal the soul.