BWW Reviews: Film Legend Leslie Caron Graces the Laguna Playhouse Stage
Two character plays about love and friendship over time like Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade and Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry are A-list treasures. Their lack of pretension and real humanity make them linger quite joyously in the mind. In spite of some wonderful moments, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks by Richard Alfieri is not quite at that level. As in a sitcom, many of the reactions are too quick and ready-made...and the outcome relies heavily on illness and sympathy to keep the two characters connected; but despite its flaws, the play is enormously entertaining and appealing in the right hands. What makes the current Laguna Playhouse production so memorable is the pairing of film legend Leslie Caron with 6-time Ovation Award winner David Engel, both known for their superior reliability with a dance step or two.
What I like best about the play is when Lily (Caron) and Michael (Engel) open up - not at first, as they both are too insecure to strip away the masks of convenience. But after a period of adjustment, and all lies are accounted for, the two start to enjoy each other's company and confide about the past. That's nice. The woman gains a son - she had abandoned her daughter in time of need because of her Baptist minister husband's pigheadedness... and the man, a second mother. He had lost his own mother to Alzheimer's Disease and one true boyfriend to pancreatic cancer. What results is a relationship that satisfies a series of needs, not surely the best kind of friendship possible, but it is sweet and assuredly comforting, especially for the woman near the end of her life. The second thing most pleasant about this play is the dancing, brief at the end of every scene, but in this case a bit more extended with Engel and Caron stealing these cherished moments guided by choreographer Donna McKechnie's keen eye and flair.
This is most definitely Engel's finest hour as he guides, supports and nourishes the petite, still lovely Caron every step of the way. He is not only there as Michael to bring more happiness and love into her life, but also as actor. Caron experiences memory loss here and there and Engel assuredly brings her back to where she ought to be in the script. He is really playing this character for all he's worth with humor, gusto and great in-depth feeling for the jaded character's loneliness as a gay man, and through all of this is managing to have a lot of fun onstage. Caron, sometimes not easy to understand as she has a tendency to throw away laugh lines, is still vibrant in her 80s and hasn't lost a smidgen of grace. She dances divinely - these moments are her shining ones - and does quite well with the light touches of comedy, as she follows Engel's lead. There is just something je ne sais quoi so appealing about her; she is captivating to watch whether dancing or simply walking across the room....ahhhh, Gigi!
John Iacovelli's set is gorgeous with the Florida sunsets in full display and Kate Bergh's costumes fit the bill nicely. Director Michael Arabian has done a fine job with keeping the action flowing and making terrific use of practically every inch of the big stage.
Even if you have seen Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks before, you will not want to miss this production. When else may you see such fine dancing and such magical chemistry between two great pros? Caron has still got the goods. Bless her!
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)