BWW Review: Coyote Stageworks Presents a Top-Notch Production of SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

Michael (David Engel) teaches
Lily (Loretta Swit) how to dance

The Coachella Valley is fortunate to have the opportunity to see Loretta Swit, who played Hot Lips Houlihan on television's MASH, in Coyote Stageworks' SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS at the Annenberg Theater, in Palm Springs. Ms. Swit and her co-star, David Engel, a member of the company's board of directors, make up the cast of this two-person comedy. Their emotionally honest interaction and Larry Raben's top-notch direction help make this production a winner.

Richard Alfieri's 2001 play (recently adapted into a film) centers around the improbable friendship between two very different people - Lily, a retired teacher who spent much of her life in South Carolina as the wife of a conservative minister, and Michael, a gay, cynical dance instructor, whom Lily hires for a series of lessons. She almost fires him during the first week after he makes one too many bad taste observations, but as the lessons progress, it becomes clear that each character has something that can help heal the other's emotional pain.

The play contains many laugh out loud moments, primarily from the bon mots that the characters toss out, some of them merely witty, but others punch-in-the-gut acerbic. This is the kind of comedy that requires perfect timing, and the union professionals in the production have the training and experience to pull it off. Even though this is a play and not a musical, there is a significant amount of dancing as well as a series of physical comedy performances by the stagehands during the scene changes - I've never had more fun watching furniture being moved. The work of the uncredited choreographer and the dancing, both by Ms. Swit, but especially by Mr. Engel, are superb.

The Coyote productions that I have attended always have excellent scenic and costume design, and SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS is no exception. Bonnie Nipar's fabulous costumes evoke the type of dance Lily is learning that week. Lily's living room contains a large picture window that looks out on the unseen Gulf of Mexico. The lighting (superbly designed by Moira Wilke) changes with the weather and time of day, and very much helps to set the mood of each scene. Lily's condo is filled with paintings and good-taste tchotchkes, but devoid of Christian trappings. As soon as the curtain goes up, thanks to Josh Clabaugh's fabulous set, we know that Lily is an educated, upper-middle-class woman who, despite her background, is moderate regarding religion.

I don't want to give away too much about the dialogue and story, because there are some genuine surprises, as well as predictable but perfectly-played events. Neither of the characters dies (always a worry in a play about a senior citizen), but the last two sweetly sentimental scenes moved me to tears; I doubt I was the only one in the audience affected that way.

My only two nits to pick involve two choices that I would have made differently. First, I would expect a South Carolinian character to speak with a Southern accent, but neither Mr. Raben nor Ms. Swit chose that path for Lily. Additionally, this is the second time in the last several weeks where I have seen a play written in the early 21st century whose references and technology are slightly out-of-date, but which the program identifies as taking place today. I would have preferred to see the year be 2000, which would have made it reasonable to give Lily a corded phone. This, in turn, would have solved a problem with a piece of stage business, in which a character presses a button on the base to hang up the phone - a feature not usually found on cordless phones. Also, a particular reference to people alive during World War II would have fit better twenty years ago. However, these are minor problems that most theatregoers will not notice; I just happen to be a stickler about accents and anachronisms.

The rest of the excellent creative team and crew for this production consists of Chuck Yates (producer and prop designer), Diane L. David (stage manager), David Engel (sound and projection design), Scott Rose (sound), and Jim Lapidus (wardrobe master).

Coyote's production of SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS deserves to sell out. I highly recommend going to see it.

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS will run through February 12, 2017, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.

THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS, starring Gloria Loring as Ann Landers, will conclude Coyote Stageworks' 2016-17 season and will run from April 14-23, 2017.

Coyote Stageworks' productions take place in the Annenberg Theater, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs, CA, 92262. The Annenberg's box office can be reached at 760-325-4490. For more information, consult or Coyote Stageworks is an Equity theatre company.

Photo Credit: David A. Lee Photography

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From This Author Audrey Liebross

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