Mark St. Germain’s “Dancing Lessons” at Theaterworks thru March 1

By Tom Nissley

What feels like an immensely important play is running at Theaterworks through the month of February, and a quick bottom line is make a dash to get tickets! Ever Montgomery (Andrew Benator) is a high functioning man with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome, about to receive an award at a ceremony followed by a dance. But there are problems. He doesn’t know how to dance. He cannot stand to be touched or touch someone else. And his socialization skills are limited to a precise, very precise, reciting of accurate data.

Ever has discovered that there is a dancer with a broken knee who lives in the same building he does, and knocks on her door, requesting her help. But Senga Quinn (Paige Davis) is deep in despair with her own problems. Her knee requires surgery she might not survive. Their meeting is not promising, when Senga does finally open the door. She: “Get lost!” He: “That would be hard to do -- I’ve lived in this building for fourteen years.” Because of his Asperger’s, Ever speaks only facts. Because of her loss of self (identity as a dancer, plus) Senga speaks only partial phrases. But they do make something of a contract to work together and begin reaching across the divide that separates them.

In that process there is an educational component that affects most of the audience members, probably all, as Senga [that’s how her aunt spelled Agnes on her birth certificate -- prompting Ever to observe that the aunt was dyslectic] makes an attempt to understand Ever’s autism, and Ever makes his own attempt to understand and help Senga. St. Germain has crafted a remarkable set of interventions that are designed to move both protagonists from their stuck places to new plateaus. And so they do, taking the rest of us with them. Persons who want to know before they go can be advised that there is some nudity in the production

The work is beautifully directed by Julianne Boyd, who directed the play when it was introduced at Barrington Stage in 2014. Paige Davis was in that production, and much of the production team served in that production which in terms of design, costumes, and projection and choreography is repeated in Hartford. Brian Prather adapted the set design at Theaterworks, from James Fenton’s design in Barrington. Lighting design is by Michael Gilliam

Ms. Davis gives a remarkable and very sensitive portrayal, hampered at times by a leg brace that is Senga’s nemesis. Andrew Benator is new to the role of Ever, which is an incredibly structured role. He is perfection to admire. His movements and reactions are so genuine, and his representation of one man with autism so good that no one can leave disappointed. Benator could perform this play around the United States for months and years to come and be loved for it in every rendition.

In a program note, Mark St. Germain describes one story of a boy with autism who grew to be a highly performing man with autism. The educational dimension of this production makes it valuable to any thinking audience; its human dimension is warm and intense. I've already said, “get tickets.”

“Dancing Lessons” runs through the month of February. Call 860-527-7838 for tickets. Information at www.theaterworkshartford.org

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

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