Richard Alfieri’s two-person play, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” premiered in Los Angeles, played on Broadway and has been produced in London, Madrid, Tokyo, Budapest and other cities around the world.
Now the Pewter Plough Playhouse has brought it to Cambria. It’s a solid, well-written play, and its universal appeal comes from the playwright’s ability to create two people to care about, mix comedy and pathos, and make some witty and insightful observations about aging, tolerance and friendship. Sandy Bosworth directs the Cambria production.
Lily Harrison, a retired schoolteacher and the widow of a Southern Baptist minister, lives in an ocean view retirement community in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla. ( “Heaven’s boot camp”).
She hires gay dance teacher Michael Minetti to come to her home to give her lessons, but they get off on the wrong foot as she lies about having a husband and he lies about having a wife. Both of them are impulsive, outspoken and touchy, and because they have no history, they have no inhibitions about blurting out their reactions to each other. Over the weeks, as they dance the swing, the tango, and the waltz, their relationship develops into a self-described “pattern of lying and arguing.”
The first act is a comic duel of personalities, peppered with clever lines that offer glimpses of what it’s like to grow old, especially alone, or to be gay, particularly in the south. As they bicker and banter, they find themselves in “a sweepstake for craziness.”
The tone changes in the second act as Lily and Michael begin to connect as they reveal the stories along the rough roads of their lives, and the comedy morphs into a touching fable about friendship.
Kelli Rodda is good as Lily, sarcastic and sharp-tongued, but likable. Rodda is a couple of decades too young for the part, but with makeup and subtle body language, she pulls it off well. She has some great lines that people of a certain age will relate to, such as old women becoming invisible and the futile search for a man her age, most of whom “are married or already dead.” After being married to a Baptist minister for so long she is “ready to violate a few commandments before it’s too late.”
As Michael Minetti, Michael Shanley has some of the funniest dialogue, some of it as he comments on the dances. For example, the tango is “undiluted musical foreplay.” Shanley develops an interesting character as a man who projects a manic façade, but admits that as a gay man in the south, he’s “afraid of running into one of those rednecks from ‘Deliverance.’ ”
The actual dance moments are brief, but fun and well done, as Michael discovers that Lily already knows most of the moves.
The centerpiece of the set by Arthur Van Rhyn is the window looking out on the seascape as it changes from sunrise to sunset. Lighting is by Colleen Spiller. Each week Lily and Michael dress colorfully and appropriately for their dance lesson, formal for the waltz, Latin for the tango, etc., so there are breaks between scenes as they change costumes backstage.
This is a strong play, and thanks go to the Plough for bringing us something new and vibrant. A film is in the works. It will be interesting to see who will play Lily and Michael.