'Syncopation' Dances to the Stars - and Moon
Syncopation by Allan Knee
Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
Choreographer, Adam Pelty; Scene Designer, Roman Tatarowicz; Costume Designer, Thom Heyer; Lighting Designer, Annmarie Duggan; Sound Designer, Jane Shaw; Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen
Adam Pelty as Henry Ribolow
Stacey Harris as Anna Bianchi
Performances through April 15, 2007 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Box Office 978-654-4MRT -or- www.merrimackrep.org
Syncopation is a delight! From the opening strains of the music of Scott Joplin, Adam Pelty and Stacey Harris dance the night away and melodiously transport us to 1911 New York City on the stage of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. With flawless direction, inventive choreography, and creative design across the board, this play does not miss a beat.
Henry Ribolow (Pelty) is a Polish-Jewish immigrant who works as a meatpacker by day, but yearns to become a famous ballroom dancer and tour the world. All he needs is the girl, so he places a classified advertisement which asks, "Why walk through life when you can dance?" He waits in his dingy sixth-floor (108 steps!) walkup for the perfect partner to arrive. Anna Bianchi (Harris) is a little less than perfect as she has little talent and lots of reluctance. She doesn't seem to know why she is there, but it does offer a diversion from her life as a garment beader. She agrees to be Henry's partner, although she keeps their weekly meetings a secret from both her father and her fiancé.
Henry meets Anna's skepticism and self-doubt head on, assuring her that they will become as popular as Vernon and Irene Castle, the most famous ballroom dancers of that era (immortalized on film by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers). He is a ray of sunshine, energetic and passionate about dancing. He wants something "magnificent" for himself and for her, and promises that they will dance for royalty. However, they must overcome the mores of the times as Anna is a "proper" young woman and concerned about appearances. Henry waits six weeks before suggesting that they touch while dancing.
There is a great deal of exposition in the first act, but the playwright cleverly uses the device of having Henry and Anna each break the fourth wall to let us know more about their lives away from the dance studio. She talks about her co-workers and the so-called Odd Women, "a group of women with bobbed hair - with attitudes and opinions I've never heard before." Ribolow introduces us to the Radicals of Rivington St., his boss, and his mother, who keeps threatening to die. They get to know each other better through their dancing and it shows as their movements become more synchronized and their relationship more harmonious. By the end of Act One, they conquer their fears and perform on the Boardwalk of Coney Island and realize that there is chemistry between them.
In the second act, Henry and Anna have great success and receive much acclaim, leading to more personal challenges as she is "discovered" by other men. If Act One is defined as "boy meets girl, boy gets girl," then Act Two is "boy loses girl, boy gets girl back." It may sound formulaic, but in the hands of Allan Knee and the MRT team, it is a far cry from that description. There is enough conflict and tension throughout to keep the audience guessing about how it will all play out in the end, and the liberal use of music (approximately sixty minutes) gives Syncopation a pleasant ebb and flow.