Monday, February 2, 2015

Theater Review: Dancing Lessons -- TheaterWorks

Paige Davis and Andrew Benator. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Exploring Whether People Can Change – 
Especially if We Look Beyond What’s on the Surface
By Lauren Yarger
Who are we really deep down, beyond what everybody sees on the surface and can is it possible to adapt? And if we allow ourselves to explore new definitions of ourselves, can life be even better than we imagined?

These are the underlying questions of Dancing Lessons, a new play from Mark St. Germain (who wrote Freud’s Last Session and Becoming Dr. Ruth which also had recent runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford).  They get a thoroughly moving exploration in a production directed by Julianne Boyd, who helmed Dr. Ruth at TheaterWorks and who is artistic director at Barrington Stage, where the play had its world premiere.

Paige Davis, host of TV’s Trading Spaces, and Andrew Benator shine as the characters exploring these questions in a script that is as full of out-loud laughs as it is deep insight.

Senga Quinn (Davis) is recovering at home in her Manhattan apartment (designed by Brian Prather) following an accident which has left her in a leg brace – and in denial that her career as a Broadway dancer is over. An unexpected knock on the door brings Ever Montgomery (Andrew Benator), a geosciences professor who is looking for dancing lessons so he doesn’t look awkward when he is honored at an event that will require him to show his moves on the dance floor.

It won’t be as easy as it sounds. “Awkward” is no stranger to Ever who describes himself as the “tyrannosaurus” of geeks. The man has a form of Autism, is uncomfortable around other people and can’t be touched. He offers Senga (so named by a presumed dyslexic aunt who meant to call her Agnes) the exact equivalent of a week’s Broadway salary (everything with Ever is precise and to the penny) to teach him how to dance. His attempts to move with the beat of some club music (sound design by Will Pickens), with Benator’s fine skills making him look unskilled, are comedic to say the least, but the two find the beginning of a friendship.  

They try to find out what is beneath the surface and in a neat staging technique we are transformed into their internet research about each other with projections and lighting (designed by Andrew Bauer and Michael Gilliam). Senga learns about Asperger’s and Ever watches videos of Senga dancing. Each discovers a friend to trust.

Senga helps Ever get over his fear of touching and Ever helps Senga release emotions she has been keeping repressed about her father and the fact that she might never be able to dance again. A bottle of scotch allows the pair to overcome some inhibitions and the friendship blossoms into something more. But can it last?

St. Germain’s plot is predictable, but satisfyingly so. It keeps the characters real. They are brought to life in such a compelling and layered manner that we feel we are intruding into intimate moments between two friends we know very well. Benator takes Ever beyond a stereotypical poster boy for Asperger’s Syndrome to create a regular guy whom we know and like.

It’s an absorbing piece of theater, well done with snappy, funny dialogue and lots to think about in a brisk 90 minutes. My only complaint is with a bit contrivance employed in the script. Senga’s reasons for not being able to have surgery on her leg seem a bit too convenient and a fantasy sequence, where the two imagine gliding around the dance floor (with choreography by Christine O’Grady and a swirly gown designed by Sarah Jean Tosetti) seems out of place.

Dancing Lessons runs at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, through March 1. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org. Warning: the show contains nudity.

Note: Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for the correction on Mr. Bauer's name. Have no clue why I renamed him William.....

1 comment:

abcontigo said...

Thanks for the review. FYI, the projection designer is Andrew Bauer, not William Bauer. Here's a link to the page on the TheaterWorks site: http://theaterworkshartford.org/play.php?id=34.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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