There is something transformative about dance. When we ignore our inhibitions and give in to the music, laws of time and physics seem temporarily suspended. In this intermediate space, we can explore and uncover those things we hide not only from ourselves but each other. In Six Dance Lessons for Six Weeks, we see this process unfold onstage as the characters navigate not only dance steps but their own fears and hesitations, highlighting the ways in which life requires all of us to stay quick on our feet.
The play, written by Richard Alfieri, follows wealthy retiree Lily Harrison as she hires dance instructor Michael Minetti to come to her home and provide guidance in the finer points of social dance. She quickly doubts herself though when Michael first arrives at her upscale Florida condo and the two are hurling insults within minutes. As the lessons progress through the weeks, Lily and Michael waltz and foxtrot their way through a succession of lies and exposures that ultimately cement their friendship. As they touch upon themes of identity, relationships, and aging it is delightful to watch their rapport, trust and love for each other grow. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, "If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." In Six Dance Lessons for Six Weeks, the characters manage to do exactly that, opening themselves up to the beauty of human connection that can be found when walls are dropped and we embrace our own vulnerability.
The show manages to play with stereotypes without falling prey to them. The characters are nuanced and real, drawing in the audience to share in their laughter and tears. The dialogue is acerbic and hard-hitting, more reminiscent of a prize fight than a waltz, and Lily and Michael do not pull any punches. As Lily, Marilyn McCormick gives a performance that is at once responsive and reserved. She manages a wide emotional range and has crafted a realistically complex character. As Michael, Gary Sommers is deliciously raunchy — especially when delivering his dirty history of dance. (The dialogue is definitely adult and may not be suited for those sensitive to strong language.) Overall, the show is an impressive feat for just two actors to uphold, especially considering the added strain of ending every scene with a dance sequence. In this production, the challenge is increased by having full costume changes between each scene, but it is lovely that the actors rise to the task, since costume designer Kevin Sharkey has done an excellent job of playfully evoking the spirit of each dance style taught. The set makes great use of the space provided by FRT's stage. Designer Ray Gutierrez has created a fantastic and well-detailed rendering of a high-rise interior, complete with a picture window that changes its view of the sky as the scenes progress.
The production is directed by Patrick Spike, who returns to Ferndale Rep after last working there as a graduate student during the mid-1990s. Choreography and dance instruction is provided by Linda Maxwell and sound design is by Lynnie Horrigan. Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks plays for two more weekends through Feb. 15 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16, $14 for students and seniors.
Los Pajaros, an adaptation of Aristophanes' The Birds, opens at Humboldt State University on Feb. 5 and runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 14 with performances at 7:30 p.m. There is an additional matinee on Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. The production is directed by Michael Fields. For more information call 826-3928.