The Tango of Life
By Geary Danihy
There are some plays that, despite their flaws, simply spread a warm glow, perhaps because what you anticipate will happen actually does, and it satisfies. Such is the case with Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, which recently opened at the Ivoryton Playhouse. This two-hander by Richard Alfieri is formulaic in the extreme (is “soap-operatic” a word?), a sort of poor man’s Driving Miss Daisy, with homosexuality rather than race being the initial bone of contention, but as obvious in its construction as it is, the play, as directed by Sasha Bratt, is both engaging and comforting, and much of this is to the credit of the two actors who have an empathic chemistry that can only grow over the run of the show.
Buy a ticket and enter the world of Lily Harrison (Valerie Stack Dodge), a widow of a certain age living in a Florida condominium where AARP members are stacked one atop another. Her doorbell rings, she opens the door, and in walks acerbic Michael Minetti (Michael Iannucci) cracking wise. There’s immediate antipathy that will ebb and flow throughout the evening as the oil and water characters eventually find solace in each other.
Michael’s visit is actually a service call, for Lily has hired him, via the eponymous company, to give her dance lessons, which allows Alfieri to milk the “By your students ye shall be taught” bromide. The two couldn’t be more different: she is a product of the South, a refined ex-English teacher who was married to a Baptist minister; he is a Floridian who escaped to New York to become A Chorus Line character who no longer has the stuff to strut. She drawls in complete sentences that drip with disdain; he ejaculates one-liners and occasional profanity. She immediately wants him out of her apartment; he is the stray alley cat who, no matter how much shooing, will not leave. Echoing a Chorus Line number, he needs this job. They are dramatically made for each other.
In their initial meeting they both lie to each other, lies that will be revealed and dissected, leading to revelations that you just know are coming. You also know your heartstrings are being played upon, and part of you, the cynical, play-going pro that you are, feels your disdain rising. This is manipulative, you think. I’m not going to fall for this…and then you, perhaps grudgingly, succumb to the manipulation.
The bewitching is accomplished by Dodge and Iannucci. Dodge creates a character of refined elegance, her movements bespeaking an inherent, repressed grace, a zest for life that has been inhibited, while Iannucci is a brash, coarse counterpoint, and thus their dance lessons are as much verbal as they are physical. Yes, the scenes are structurally repetitive, but the two actors have such a compelling chemistry that it eventually overrides any irritation.
Through a set of multiple reveals about back story and current situations, you find yourself caring about Lily and Michael, and their final dance is, dare I say it, heartwarming, as is the final “feeding” scene in Driving Miss Daisy. Alfieri’s play may not have the subtle levels of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer-prize winning work, but Dodge and Iannucci work wonderfully with what they have been given and one can only suspect that over the run of the show, which closes May 22, they will find more ways to enhance their characters’ humanity, making their final dance even more compelling.
For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.