Dancing At Lughnasa

on November 13, 1998 by Kevin Courrier
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   "Dancing at Lughnasa," based on the original stage play by Brian Friel, is a painfully labored coming-of-age story in which actors wear their characters on their sleeves, and the symbolic moments are writ so large you'd have to be far-sighted to miss them.
   Set in the small village of Ballybog, Ireland in 1936, the story is about five unmarried sisters awaiting the return of their missionary brother (Michael Gambon) from Africa while they prepare for the annual forest rites honoring the pagan deity Lugh. When they meet their brother at the train station, they find that he's no longer the stoic man they once knew. Cavorting with African tribesmen has unleashed a wild spirit which threatens his place in the community, as well as the family's.
   With the exception of Catherine McCormack ("Braveheart"), who gives a supple performance that touches on the hidden eroticism of the material, everyone else reaches for the hambone. "Dancing at Lughnasa" chokes on its own folksiness.    Starring Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon. Directed by Pat O'Connor. Written by Frank McGuinness. Produced by Noel Pearson. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements. Running time: 95 min.
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