Monday, November 10, 2014

Emerson Stage: A Launching Pad For The Next Generation of Theater Professionals

I often write in this space about how blessed we are in the Greater Boston area to have such a vibrant theater scene.  An under-appreciated aspect of that rich banquet of theater treats is the collection of schools where the next generation of theater professionals are honing their skills.  And that process of honing is often on display for the public at places like the A.R.T.'s EX and Loeb Stages, Boston Conservatory's stages, Boston University, Northeastern University, Brandeis University and Suffolk University student productions, and Emerson College's Emerson Stage.  Emerson Stage productions provide students in Emerson's Department of Performing Arts opportunities to develop their skills as actors, designers, stage managers, technicians, administrators and educators, working alongside faculty, staff and visiting artists.

I recently had an opportunity to attend a performance of Emerson Stage's "Dancing At Lughnasa." While I will not offer a formal review of a student production, I will make some comments and observations about what I experienced.

"Dancing At Lughnasa," is a memory play by Irish playwright Brian Friel.  The action is set in the depth of the worldwide depression in 1936, in the remote northwest corner of Ireland in County Donegal.  The hauntingly nostalgic play is autobiographical, narrated by the adult Michael remembering what life was life for him when he was seven years old.  He and his single mother (he was born a "love child") and a motley assortment of aunts and an uncle who is a de-frocked priest struggle to scratch out a living and an existence.  This is not an easy play to produce or to perform, yet the combination of Emerson students and faculty cobbled together a production that any professional theater company would be proud to call its own.

Dancing at Lughnasa
(Photo courtesy of Perspective Photo)

at Emerson College Semel Theater.

The set, designed by Julia Kreitman, was Broadway quality, richly evoking the warmth and sparseness of a country homestead of a simple extended family.  Costumes by Rebecca Carr, lighting by Marta Williams and sound by Arshan Gailus created just the right feel and atmosphere that allowed the cast to weave a compelling tale.  Amelia Broome did an amazing job in coaching the young actors in Irish brogues that were flawless and completely comprehensible.  There was also a Welsh accent befitting the provenance of Michael's biological father, Gerry.  Courtney O'Connor directed this troupe of very capable actors with a sure hand.

Dancing at Lughnasa
(Photo courtesy of Perspective Photo)

at Emerson College Semel Theater.

The cast included:

Jonathan Acorn as Michael
Brenna Sweet as Kate
Roisin Dowling as Maggie
Jamie Ahlborn as Agnes
Jamie Davenport as Rose
Austin Davis as Chris
Simon Kiser as Gerry
Nicholas Brownson as Jack.

Memorize these names, for it will not be long before you will be reading some of them again in Playbill and seeing them emblazoned on Broadway marquees, along with Emerson alumna and Tony winner, Andrea Martin!  This production was marked by many outstanding individual performances and a smooth integration and cohesion among the ensemble members that made one feel as if they really were members of the same family - loving each other as best they could under less than ideal conditions and a rapidly changing world.  They made us care about the fate of each of the characters, and at the end of the day, that is what good theater is about.

The next Emerson Stage production will be the Kander and Ebb revue, "The World Goes 'Round," featuring music from "Cabaret," "The Kiss of The Spider Woman," "Chicago," and other shows. Performances will be presented from November 20-23.  Get your tickets now.  Tickets are only $12. Broadway quality for community theater prices!

Emerson Stages Website



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