Sunday, March 04, 2007

opening-weekend review of *Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks*

at Interplayers through March 17

It’s important to be reminded of the need for simple compassion. We live in a world of stereotypes: It’s easy to be quick about sizing up people and then dismissing them even quicker.
That’s why it’s so annoying to have potentially genuine moments of generosity and affection undercut by the predictable, cloying bit of manipulation that is Richard Alfieri’s plot in *Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks* (at Interplayers through March 17). To arrive at the moments of genuine compassion in this play, you sure have to grind your teeth through a lot of scenes.
Alfieri’s scenes are predictable in their structure and in the revelations they attempt (none too well) to withhold. When a lonely retiree (Kathie Doyle-Lipe) invites a bitchy gay dance instructor (Joel Richards) into her hardwood-floor living room for the title’s course of instruction, you can just sense how differences in age, class, gender, social values, religion, sexual orientation — and preferences in the color and material of throw pillows — will all become debating points.
Even worse, the tonal shifts in Alfieri’s writing are head-snapping: first Lily’s stomping off the stage, then Michael’s barging out the door. He lets fly with a few choice uncensored thoughts, so she’s offended; then she lets some of her prejudices show, and he’s off somewhere sulking.
Then they make up, toss off some wit-cracks and then pause under a pin spot just long enough to let you know not only that this particular dance lesson has concluded but also that we have reached an Emotional Moment of Reflection.
As Lily and Michael, Doyle-Lipe and Richards are reasonably good half-characters: Neither is persuasive during the more serious moments. That leads to a serious imbalance, but at least both are accomplished comedic actors: Doyle-Lipe with her engaging elfin grin as she throws her head back in glee during a particularly torrid tango, Richards with his consistent cheerfulness as he enters each scene in another flamboyant dance instructor’s costume. But the comic rhythms — the extensions of sly grins, the holding for laugh lines — creep over into the dramatic exchanges, particularly in Richards’ case, with the result that the pain of being ostracized and the sadness over loss aren’t fully conveyed.


For the remainder of this review — with comments on the production’s dialogue, set, lighting, direction, dance sequences, final scene and more (including some audience behavior), please pick up a copy of *The Pacific Northwest Inlander* on Thursday, March 8.


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