A TOUR DE FORCE
By Joanna Brady, KONKLife
If you’re looking for a terrific play to see over the holidays, you can’t do better than “Dancing Lessons” now playing at the Red Barn through Jan. 13. Brilliantly written by Mark St. Germain, the script is incisive and hilarious, holding appreciative audiences’ uproarious attention right from the get-go.
“Dancing Lessons” brings together two West Side neighbors in New York, people who barely nod to each other on the elevator. The scene opens with Senga, a professional dancer whose career may be over after a car accident, but who lives in denial of the bleak reality of her injury. She is flirting with suicide against a music track playing ‘hurtin’ songs when Ever knocks on her door with an unexpected request. She is snarly and dismissive at first, but his offer to pay her $2,053 for one dance lesson thaws her hostility and she agrees.
Ever lives directly above her. He’s an autistic geo-physicist with an astonishing intellect, to be honored at a gala that includes dancing. Desperate to avoid embarrassment at the party, he needs a dancing lesson. The money is an incentive, but it’s the wit and charm beneath Ever’s oddball surface that wins Senga’s interest.
Senga is played by the very talented Carolyn Cooper, hobbling in a full leg brace. She is excellent as a rude, slightly neurotic New Yorker, desperate over her situation, and it is fascinating to watch her character evolve from comically cranky to a woman with compassion and a desire to help. Dave Bootle plays Ever, the socially awkward professor whose life centers around his Asperger’s Syndrome, a highly functional kind of Autism. He has a demanding role, and plays it masterfully, keeping his voice in a robotic, flat timbre throughout, and reacting irrationally when his comfort zone is invaded. He can’t look straight at Senga, and can’t be touched, which complicates the lesson.
An unlikely relationship develops between Senga and Ever, revealing similarities that offer both a chance to grow as they come to trust each other. Left brain meets right brain: A data-driven guy, incapable of dishonesty or reading basic emotional cues, Ever teaches Senga to face reality. She teaches him to open his mind to the world of imagination, the joy of music and dance. Ever begins to learn that change and the courage to affect it can be a positive experience.
The inevitable does happen as their touching begins, leading from handshaking, hugs, dancing, and yes, sleeping together.
He invites her to accompany him to the award gala and, looking stunning in formal clothes, they whirl around the stage. Fred and Ginger they are not (she’s still wearing a leg brace), but they look great together, and although the ending is inconclusive, we don’t think this relationship will end with the dancing lesson.
Watching the lesson blossom into something more meaningful for both makes for the most entertaining 95 minutes I’ve seen on stage for a while. Joy Hawkins’s impeccable comic timing brings a quick, snappy pace to Mark St. Germain’s terrific script, even to keeping a serious segment from bogging it down. The father/son team, Gary and Jack McDonald have created a striking and colorful set, the perfect backdrop for this New York play.
“Dancing Lessons” will run Tuesdays through Saturdays. Tuesday performances are at 7 pm; all other days are at 8 pm. Tickets available now at redbarntheatre.com and Can be purchased individually or as part of a four-show subscription. Call 305-296-9911 for tickets. Box office is open 3-5 pm, Monday through Friday.