Sunday, May 15, 2016

Theater Review: Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

Valerie Stack Dodge and Michael Iannucci. Photo: Anne Hudson
Waltzing Through the Complexities of Life, Friendship
By Lauren Yarger
An unlikely love story dances across the stage as an older woman and a younger, gay dance instructor discover the music of friendship together in Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance  Lessons in Six Weeks at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Friendship is a melody neither of them really expected to enjoy again. Lily Harrison (Valerie Stack Dodge) has withdrawn from society and keeps to herself in a retirement community in Florida where she seems to have only one friend – an Alzheimer’s-stricken neighbor downstairs whom she sees on occasional outings. She further shields herself by pretending that her husband is still alive to deter anyone who might try to take advantage of a widow on her own.

Enter Michael Minetti (Michael Iannucci), hired by Lily to give her six private dance lessons in six weeks. They get off on the wrong foot -- their antagonism is palpable – and Lily almost fires Michael before the first dance step. A second chance paves the way for a relationship that surprises them both.

While foxtrotting, waltzing and doing the tango around Lily’s living room (designed by William Russell Stark), they reveal more about themselves, their insecurities and lies they have told. Lisa Bebey designs an assortment of costumes for each of the routines choreographed by Apollo Smile.

One of the biggest hurdles is for Michael to trust Lily – a teacher and Baptist minister’s wife—in the face of prejudice against gays. Their losses – Michael has lost his partner and his mother, Lily has lost her husband and a daughter – unite them as they master the steps of a deep and abiding friendship.

The play, which clocks in a just over two hours with an intermission, is a delightful spin around tough subject matters, the things that really get in the way of being able to enjoy being with other people and the joy that is possible when leading and following results in Fred-and-Ginger-like perfection.

There are many “ah-ha” moments where the characters express truths of life – even if they don’t sound like true phrases people say in conversation. The actual dancing seems a bit stiff and we don’t really buy Iannucci as a former Broadway chorus dancer-turned instructor. But  the bond between the characters is genuine, thanks to the strong performances from the actors and their good rapport (though Dodge’s wig, designed by Mark Adam Pampmeyer, doesn’t make her look anywhere near 72…). Scene changes unfortunately interrupt the mood as we have to wait for a stage manager to reset props (it would have been smoother to have the actors gather props while exiting.)

It’s a gentle story that makes you smile and believe in humanity again. A 2014 film adaptation of the story starred Gena Rowlands and Cheyenne Jackson, but I have never seen it performed since it made its Broadway debut in 2003. I’m glad the Playhouse has rediscovered it.

Six Dances in Six Weeks actually doesn't play that long -- just until May 22, at the Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, so catch it while you can. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm.Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. (860) 767-7318;;

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