BWW Reviews: Paradox Players Production of SIX DANCE LESSONS Is a Valentine's Treat
There's a rather funny thing about relationships, whether they be friendships or romantic. We all know that they take hard work to maintain, but the best ones appear to require no work at all. While the unlikely chums in Richard Alfieri's dramedy Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks put in a painstaking amount of work to maintain their friendship, the show itself seems effortless. The show may tug at our heartstrings, but I say tug away. These characters, brilliantly brought to life in Paradox Players' current production, are just what we need around Valentine's Day.
The play, which premiered in Los Angeles in 2001 and hit Broadway in 2003, has thrilled audiences all over the globe, and this stellar production is sure to thrill Austin theatergoers. As the title suggests, the show involves a lonely retirement age woman, Lily (Cynthia Schiebel) who hires a dance instructor, Michael (Kirk Kelso) to give her private dance lessons in her South Florida condo. Initially, the two are a quintessential odd couple. Michael is foul-mouthed, brutally honest, and unpredictable. Lily is reserved and almost snooty. But through their dance lessons, the two begin to develop a strong bond as they share their personal secrets.
Alfieri's script is immensely likeable, despite its obvious structure and ploys to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Each scene begins with an argument, usually follows with Lily's reluctance to continue with the lesson, and eventually ends in a moment of tenderness between the two. Moreover, every twist and turn of plot can be seen from a mile away. But despite the predictability of the story, there's something enticing in Alfieri's writing. Every one-liner and every emotional moment, however calculated, feels authentic. Though you've seen it all before (there are some major similarities to Driving Miss Daisy), you somehow feel as if you've never seen these characters or heard this story.
Matthew Burnett's direction of the piece is absolute perfection. The bond he creates between these two characters is wonderfully relatable and poignant. While each character could come off as somewhat archetypal (she's a lonely old woman. He's a sassy gay man), Burnett never allows the characters to stoop to such cartoony lows. Like the text, Burnett knows just how to make the audience laugh in one moment and cry in the next. The show is wildly funny but incredibly touching as well, and it manages to be sentimental without being sappy.
Burnett's cast is equally as strong. The always hysterical Kirk Kelso, who often finds himself in over-the-top character actor roles, is fantastic as Michael. He's spirited, feisty, and doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks about him. Naturally, Kelso's a laugh riot in the comedic moments, but he also shows a softer, more sincere side that he rarely gets to show on stage. While it's a rarity to see Kelso do drama, he's just as strong at the dramatic moments as he is at the comedic ones. Kelso's more than just one of the best comedians in Austin. He's one of the best actors in Austin.
Kelso's counterpart, Cynthia Schiebel, is a joy to watch as well. The somewhat cranky, cold, and standoffish Lily is a harder sell than the effervescent Michael. Lesser actresses would find it difficult to create a likeable character out of her, but Schiebel does so with ease. She's a force to be reckoned with in the show's more poignant moments, but she holds her own against Kelso in the lighter parts as well. The little twinkle in her eye as she delivers her few witty zingers is particularly fun to see. Despite Lily's aloof exterior, there's a bit of feistiness in her.
Small criticisms regarding the writing aside, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is a funny, moving, and thoroughly entertaining show. Burnett, Schiebel, and Kelso know all the steps in this delicate dance between comedy and drama, and they more than deliver. If you're looking for the perfect Valentine's Day plans, whether it be with your significant other or you and your friends, look no further. This is one to fall in love with.
SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS, produced by Parodox Players, plays the Howson Hall Theater inside the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin located at 4700 Grover, Austin, 78756 now thru February 23rd. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$20. For tickets and information, visit paradoxplayers.org.