Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September 2007
Six Dance Lesson in Six Weeks is a decidedly mediocre play currently being given a ridiculously fabulous production at the Theater Barn. The plot is one we have seen countless times before – two very different people are thrust together by circumstance and discover, over the course of two soul-bearing acts, that they like/need/want each other after all.
In this case an older woman, Lily Harrington (Ruthanne Gereghty), hires a 30-something gay man, Michael Minetti (Matthew Daly), to give her, you guessed it, six dance lessons in six weeks. These are private lessons given in her perfectly shell-pink ocean-view condominium in St. Petersburg, Florida. It turns out she dances very well, so her motive for hiring a dance instructor was obviously a need for companionship rather than the desire to learn a new skill, but Lily would be the last person to admit she was lonely. Well, the next to last. It turns out that Michael is pretty darned lonely too.
People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world.”
- Bob Merrill
The clever twist playwright Richard Alfieri has put on this rather shop-worn theatrical premise is to add dance to the equation (click HERE to read about how he came up with the concept for this play). Each of the first six scenes is named for the dance style of the lesson and each scene (including the seventh “bonus lesson”) end with Lily and Michael kicking up their heels in style. The Swing, The Tango, The Viennese Waltz, the Foxtrot, The Cha-Cha, and “Contemporary Dance” are covered. For each lesson Alfieri has given Michael some hilarious canned patter about the origin of the dance, which ends up being very illuminating. Dance is the socially condoned method of expressing love, desire, and, yes, s-e-x. Since both characters are alone in life and have no partners with whom to express their romantic and sexual natures, dancing is a great release for them. The fact that Gereghty and Daly are wonderful dancers brings that point home clearly in every scene.
Theater Barn Artistic Director Michael Marotta has directed and choreographed this production and it is a brilliant piece of work, successfully turning what could easily be a sow’s ear of a predictable script into a gorgeous silk purse. In this magic he is ably abetted by Daly and Gegeghty, who make an endearing team; Abe Phelp’s pitch-perfect Florida condo set; Robert Eberle’s evocative lighting; and a seamless sound design featuring lots of toe-tapping tunes. Marotta even has Stage Manager Emily James Durning get in on the act by dancing through the scene changes (which must of necessity be stretched out to allow the actors time to change costumes). I was kind of sad Durning didn’t get to take a bow at the end!
And speaking of costumes, Jonathan Knipscher and Michelle Blanchard have come up with a bunch of winners, with the exception of one ill-fitting pair of black trousers which Daly wears in far too many scenes. Surely there is another pair of black trousers in the universe which would be more flattering on such a trim and nimble gentleman?? But that quibble aside the flamboyant dance-style-themed outfits Daly wears and the assortment of flattering evening and day wear that Gereghty sports make the show visually exciting despite its single set concept.
If you are a woman, especially if you are a woman of a certain age who has been around the block a couple of times (and who among us hasn’t?), you will find this production absolutely enchanting. Imagine that a handsome, funny, smart, caring man comes into your life and he doesn’t want your body or your money or even for you to wash his socks and cook his meals – he just wants to dance with you. And he’s a FABULOUS dancer! Sign me up for THAT fantasy right away!
The first time I saw Daly on the Theater Barn stage was in 1999 when, using the name John Heinis, he played Jesus in Godspell opposite another of my favorite local actors, Stephen Bolte, as Judas. (Now there’s a double act I’d like to see again!) I have been a fan ever since and was delighted to see him reappear last season after several years away with a strong performance as Hot-Blades Harry in Urinetown.
Although I have seen Daly in a variety of roles over the years, I associate him most strongly with over-the-top comic parts like Pseudolus in ...Forum and maniacal wierdos like Hot-Blades Harry and Orin Scrivello, DDS. My greatest fear going in to this show was that he would be too “big” for such a light comedy. I was completely wrong. Daly plays his big moments big, and they are lots of fun, but he has also created a complete three-dimensional portrait of Michael, so that the quiet moments are just as real and entertaining as the big ones. He is so good in this role that I can see it becoming his bread-and-butter part for at least the next decade, traveling from one regional playhouse to the next dancing with attractive older actresses on Pepto-Bismol pink sets for years to come!
And it is such fun to watch him dance because he is a natural – dance just bursts out of him like song out of a singer. Luckily Gereghty has a similar gift and as you watch these two cut a rug it is easy to believe that there was no choreographer involved at all.
Gereghty is not quite as strong a performer as Daly, but she is no slouch and she is also no spring chicken which makes her tackling this show, which requires both performers to be on stage for all of every scene, a noble endeavor. I applaud the casting of an older woman to play an older woman. Considering the physical requirements of this role it would be tempting to cast a younger actress and slap a gray wig on her, like they did with the roles of Sophia Petrillo on the Golden Girls (Estelle Getty is a year younger than Bea Arthur who played her daughter on that series) and Diana Trent in Waiting for God (Stephanie Cole was 49 when the first season was shot).
While the end of this play was absolutely predictable, I found myself with a satisfying tear in my eye and lump in my throat because two more people in this big lonely world had found friendship and support. There is nothing wrong with a tear-jerker with an uplifting ending, especially when you have been given an opportunity to connect and laugh with the characters along the way.
While it is no wonder that this show had a pitifully short Broadway run in 2003, as it is way too small and formulaic to be worth the outrageous ticket prices, it is also no surprise that it is flourishing in regional and community theatres around the globe. This is the Berkshire-area premiere and I cannot imagine that we will see much better any time soon. Isn’t it wonderful to start the fall season on such a happy note?
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks runs through September 16 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and ten minutes with one intermission and is suitable for children 12 and up. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007