Irish playwright Brian Friel admires and has adapted plays by Anton Chekhov. And like so many gentle comedies by the Russian master, Friel's bittersweet period drama is less concerned with events than with the emotional survival of ordinary folk in a formidable and changing world. Friel's quasi-autobiographical play is set in an Irish village in August 1936 and revolves around five impoverished and unmarried sisters. Narrating their fortunes is the now-grown illegitimate son of the youngest sibling, Christina (Molly Leland), Michael (Gino Costabile); he is the playwright's alter ego. Having neither money nor romance, Michael's mother and aunts gather comfort from each other, along with a bit of joy from their recently acquired "wireless," a cantankerous appliance that intermittently furnishes music they can dance to. One significant event is the return from Africa of their elder brother, a priest named Jack (Donal O'Sullivan). After 25 years, his muddled metamorphosis from Catholic missionary into humanist and celebrator of Dionysus is startling to everyone. Another ripple in their lives is created with the brief reappearance of Christina's lover, Gerry (ZackaRya Santoro), the father of her child. But even as the couple dance in each other's arms, their son, Michael, is describing the twilight destiny of their liaison, and of his family as well. Directed by Aaron Morgan, this is a solid production that captures the play's considerable heart and depth, despite the miscasting of one performer and other still unperfected performances on opening night. As the lovely Christina, Leland radiates with inner life, while Suzy Harbulak draws a skilled portrait of the reserved sister, Agnes. Costabile furnishes the piece with a firm anchor, an understated yet persuasive storyteller, he is equally adept in his role as a 7-year-old boy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 960-7711, plays411.com/lughnasa.
Thu., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 25, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 2 p.m., 2011