Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

January 24
8:58 AM 2011

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               It's a formula we've seen before...An old man/woman connects with a young man/woman...though years separate them, they learn from each other, about themselves, life, love, and whatever else the writer decides is appropriate.  Whether  fiction ("Visiting Mr. Green") or nonfiction ("Tuesdays with Morrie"), it's a story that never fails to captivate...afterall, we're all either young or old and in need of something to learn.

                In the case of the whimsical dramedy, "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," the formula is deftly executed by Joan Crooks as Lily and Eric C. Stein as Michael in director Roy Hammond's interpretation of Richard Alfier's 2-act play.

                At first glance, it would appear that Lily - a 70something preacher's wife - and Michael - a gay, slightly mad dance instructor - couldn't have less in common.  Lily is paralyzed by fear as to what to say and how and when to say it while Michael says whatever he feels, no matter how shocking or insulting. Two minutes into the play, and Michael has already call,ed Lily, a woman he has  just met, a "tight-assed old biddy"...but as the play develops, one learns that Lily may be even more risqué than Michael.

                But that's the formula...a clever writer takes advantage of the stereotypes people have in mind when it comes to certain characters and situations...and then knocks them on their ear.  One doesn't expect the prim, aging, former schoolteacher to use the term "f***-me dress"...and if you're expecting a river of pathos involving "the-noble-gay-man-fighting-AIDS," you best check out another play.

                Which, of course, makes "Six Dance Lessons" all the more entertaining. Toss in a delightful script, teeming with witty dialogue, made all the more enjoyable when performed by two actors as skilled as Ms. Crooks and Mr. Stein, and the result is a wonderful evening of theater (according to the playbill, "Six Dance Lessons" will premiere as a feature film in 2012 starring Shirley MacLaine and Rupert Everett).  When Michael claims Lily's skin is sweet as streudel, she says yes, "it's pasty and flaky." When Lily observes how much time she and Michael spend "lying and arguing," he retorts, "Well, every relationship has a foundation."

                Mr. Alfieri expertly expresses the concerns many elderly must feel in today's youth-and-accomplishment oriented Western society--Lily's description of becoming "slowly invisible," being "locked in a time capsule, living the same moments over and over again." In Michael, Alfieri reveals the cynicism that often remains when innocence is loss. "Love is Santa Claus for adults," Michael exclaims. Both Lily and Michael are isolated in their own ways; by coming together, first in dance, then in friendship, both learn valuable lessons which, of course, are the essence of the play.

                "Six Dance Lessons" takes place entirely in the living room of Lily's St. Petersburg, FL, condo;  there are seven scenes in all, each named for the dance Michael has come, CD player in hand, to teach - The Swing, The Tango, The Viennese Waltz, The Foxtrot, The Cha-Cha, Contemporary Dance and a "Bonus Lesson."  The stage crew at The Vagabond are smooth and efficient as transitions are made from scene to scene. The set features a colorful backdrop which serves as Lily and Michael's view of the beach, from sunrise to sunset.

                The Baltimore premier of "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" continues  at the Vagabond Players theater, 806 South Broadway in Fells Point, through February 6th.  For reservations and mini-subscription information, call 410-563-9135 or visit www.vagabondplayers.org.

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