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TO JANUARY 2
Brian Friel’s luminous memory play in which a young Irishman recalls the last summer of happiness he shared with his unwed mother and four spinster aunts is as sweetly wistful as a sunset on the heath. It’s also about as eventful, which is not necessarily a drawback. The evening wraps the audience in warmth and an expansive humanity not often found in the theater these days. Though initially its first-act highlight—a moment of spontaneous combustion in which the pent-up sensuality of the five middle-age sisters explodes into a free-form, rafter-shaking, table-stomping dance—seems to sum up the playwright’s entire message, he turns out to have lots more on his mind. Colonialism, religious intolerance, the dehumanizing effects of industrialization, and the healing power of love all get a workout as the characters deal with the joys and pressures of their isolated life. But what patrons will carry away from Kyle Donnelly’s evocative production(co-produced by Chicago’s Goodman Theater) is a feeling of having been stimulated by a keen theatrical intelligence and warmed by the embrace of a remarkable family. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., and Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with varying matinees at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater, 6th & Maine Ave. SW. $22-39. (202) 488-3300. (Bob Mondello)