Nice Rhythm to Six Dance Lessons...at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

You’re not going to learn a lot of new steps in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks at The Ivoryton Playhouse -- the plot is pretty predictable.

Yet there are some unexpected witty one-liners and astute insights into what it feels like to be the outcast, marginalized because of ageism or homophobia, as is the case of the two characters in this two-person, two-act production.

Richard Alfieri wrote the entertaining play performed on Broadway in 2003 to mixed reviews. It was adapted for the screen 10 years later in a movie starring Gena Rowlands and Cheyenne Jackson.

The simple plot is centered on Lily Harrison, an aging, retired schoolteacher, (played by Valerie Stack Dodge) who lives in a typical high-rise apartment in Saint Pete Beach, Florida. She is like an older Rapunzel trapped high up in her castle with a beautiful view, but no sense of purpose.

Enter Michael Minetti (performed by Michael Iannucci), a younger dance instructor from an agency in Clearwater, whom Lily hired to give her six weeks of private dance lessons. Semi-retired from a career in theater, he grapples with being gay on the conservative West Coast of the Sunshine State.

As expected, they go at it -- Michael, a potty-mouthed, “hot-headed Italian” and Lily, a straight-laced South Carolina transplant.

Lily is outraged when she finds out Michael’s been lying about giving dance lessons in order to make extra money to pay medical bills for a fictional ailing wife. But the playing field is leveled when he discovers she’s been lying about her husband, a Southern Baptist minister, who just happens to be out every time Michael arrives for a lesson. He died six years earlier.

“In the craziness sweepstakes, I thought I was way ahead of you,” Michael chides her.

Both are trapped by circumstances. Michael came to Florida to care for his elderly mother, who died recently. “You think I wanted to live in the last notch of the Bible belt?” he asks Lily.

And Lily is adrift, husband-less and career-less. Mutual loneliness brings them together despite their many differences. Their thorny relationship grows and they become increasingly fond of each other, and compassionate about one another’s troubles, especially after another secret Lily is keeping is revealed. Of course this all happens between barbs -- without which it would be a pretty sappy story.

As Michael says, “Lying and arguing. Every relationship has its basis, and that’s ours.”

Iannucci grabs the audience’s attention as the amusing, likable, say-it-like-it-is dance instructor. And although he is gifted with the majority of the play’s funniest lines, Dodge does very well as a stiff, school mar-mish senior citizen with a dry wit, who softens as she attempts to break out of her boring life and channel some fun and excitement through her new, younger friend.

The dance numbers are nicely done. Michael arrives in a different over-the-top costume each week to complement the particular dance he’s teaching Lily -- whether a waltz or the Cha-Cha. Lily follows suit with increasingly feminine, colorful attire, and the two, despite their jarring differences, dance together quite companionably, their smooth moves completely in sync. (Lily admits she’s had lessons before).

Although both Dodge and Iannucci are accomplished actors, who bring out the best in the script, there are some things they have no control over.

First is the casting. There isn’t enough actual contrast in the age of the actors in this production for us to believe they are a generation apart -- even with wigs and makeup.

And then there’s the constant references Lily makes about herself as old, after telling Michael she’s 68 and then admitting she’s 72 -- but still.

It’s perturbing for today’s audiences, who may at Lily’s age, not see themselves as old or feel they’re old just because they’ve reached social security eligibility, particularly when people in their late 60s or early 70s are taking care of their elderly parents, who are in their 80s and well above.  But perhaps when the play was first performed 16 years ago, 70 hadn’t yet become the new 60, etc.

But despite being a play that doesn’t age that gracefully, the Ivoryton production under Sasha Bratt’s competent direction, is quite enjoyable with some very funny as well as poignant moments.

William Russell Stark has designed the requisite direct waterfront Florida apartment with a knock out view, which Marcus Abbott has enhanced with exquisite, ever-changing lighting that brings the ocean views and sunsets to life. Lisa Bebey’s costumes and Tate R. Burmeister’s sound design energize the dance lesson scenes.

Performances of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks continue through May 22 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. For tickets call the box office at 860-767-7318 or online visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com.


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