BWW Review: SWIT Continues To Charm Audience In SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS at Shea's 710 Theatre
Hold your hats boys, Hot Lips Houlihan, aka Loretta Swit from the classic TV show MASH is back in town. Shea's 710 Main Theatre is presenting the two handed play SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS for the remainder of this Curtain Up Weekend. The good new is there are still some seats available, the bad news turns out to be good news--Ms Swit is no longer Hot Lips, but she is a veteran stage actress giving a compelling performance.
Richard Alfieri's 2001 play SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS tells the story of an aged retired school teacher who engages a dance instructor for 6 seeks to give her in home lessons on various dance styles. The successful play has been presented on Broadway, in a motion picture, and on stages all over the world. Upon first meeting the two characters take to each other like oil to water, but their clash in personalities leads to a deeper bond as the 6 short weekly lessons morph into a meeting of the minds. David Engel is Michael, the hyperactive, often caustic, gay former dancer who seems to have little patience for his new job as dance instructor to the geriatric set.
The charismatic Swit is perfectly cast in the role of Lily, exuding an ease on stage and an affability that is palpable. From her entrance, it is obvious that the audience wanted this beloved TV icon to shine, and shine she does. Her initial meeting proved that she is not ready for a gay man, who may or may not be "out of the cupboard," to invade her home. She brings a comfort onstage that sheds any hint of theatricality and moves into the realm of utter believability. As the aging preacher's wife, we learn the familiar story that not everyone can be judged by their outward appearances. Ms. Swit has spot on comic timing that brings an audience to spontaneous laughter at her one liners, while exuding an inner softness and frailty of someone who is the twilight years of her life. When speaking of her late husband she quips, "our relationship has improved since he died."
Mr. Engel ,who also serves as choreographer, fully inhabits the part of the bitter middle age former Broadway chorus boy whose career is placed on permanent hold as he must leave New York to care for his failing mother in Florida. Engel is flamboyant and full of energy, masking his true emotions with biting cynicism. But he too finds a softer edge as the week's lessons progress. He dresses in appropriate costumes to match the weekly dance themes, and Lily does the same once she is onto him. The two share barbs that would put Kate and Petruchio to shame, and in doing so find a common language, that is dancing, to form a bond.
The functional unit set by Dyan Burlingame was vast and may have been served better by moving the playing area downstage to help create more intimacy on the large 710 Main Stage, but the thrust stage brought all of the dancing front and center. Mr. Engel's lithe and acrobatic dance moves were fun to watch, and Ms. Swit seemed to be reveling in showing off her knowledge of dance. Each scene ended with the two dancing, then cleverly two stage hands would end up briefly dancing through each scene change ( a genuinely comical touch).
While Mr. Alfieri's play may not be earth shattering is it's approach, and some of the early jokes seem expected, he has fashioned a play that is often poignant while outwardly being very funny. The character of Michael is written a bit over the top, but happily his final story line shies away from predictability. Alfieri shines in highlighting the differences between the two and shows how each has there own sense of humor, but both are lonely, bordering on reclusive. So through cha-cha, waltzes and tangos we see the plot take an unexpected turn in the second act, with Michael and Lily's frailty coming to the forefront. Both Engel and Swit's external facades crumble, exposing their inner emotions. In the hands of these two actors, what could come across as soap opera melodrama instead tugs at the heart and elevates the evening to a higher plane. What starts as innocent dance lessons now exposes a deeper friendship between two characters who couldn't possibly have led more divergent lives. Though sometimes saccharine, the end product goes down easily and not without a tear or a sniffle from many in attendance.
SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS plays through Sunday September 18, 2017 at Shea's 710 Main Theatre. Contact Sheas.org for more information and tickets.