Review - 'Dancing On Nails' Requires Sharpening

There's a bit of naïve sweetness about Paul Manuel Kane's warm but not-quite-ready interracial May/December romantic drama, Dancing On Nails. Fifty years ago it might have passed for one of those socially conscious but commercially aware star vehicles aimed at Broadway's liberal Jewish clientele. Today, the play has an interesting set-up but is very much a work-in-progress.

Review - 'Dancing On Nails' Requires SharpeningSet in Greenwich Village, 1953, the lead dancer is Sam Heisler, played with gruff, old-world authority by Peter Van Wagner. Never married, nor ever in love, the 50-ish Peter has devoted his life to building and maintaining his hardware business. His cousin Rose (Lori Wilner), who lives in his store's basement with her underemployed, aspiring jazz musician husband Joe (Michael Lewis), manages his books.

When Rose hires Natalie (Jazmyn Richardson), a quiet and polite 20-year-old black woman who aspires to be an opera singer, as an assistant, Sam is initially too involved with business matters to notice. Their first meeting is full of friction, as Sam isn't shy about expressing his disinterest in opera and his insistence on employees being unquestionably willing to give up personal commitments for the sake of the company.

But apparently after hearing Natalie vocalizing (a scene the audience never sees) Sam starts growing more and more smitten; admiring her for her ambition, talent and devotion to her family. Though the young lady keeps at a respectful distance, Sam is turning downright giddy feeling his first crush; taking Natalie to a nice Italian restaurant and buying her a photo locket, which he broadly hints should contain his photo.

Review - 'Dancing On Nails' Requires SharpeningMeanwhile, there's a matter of Rose and Joe needing Sam's financial help in their effort to adopt a child. The final, peripheral, character, Luba (Lauren Klein) is a stereotypical elderly Jewish busybody who pops into the store now and then.

Kane provides a decent enough outline, and much of the dialogue is engaging with its meat-and-potatoes simplicity, but the reasons for Sam's sudden feelings for Natalie, and her discomfort in being the recipient, are barely explored. Certainly their age and racial differences would have been hot issues sixty years ago but Dancing On Nails barely creates a spark, though the fine company gives a game effort.

Director Allen Lewis Rickman's production is of an obviously small budget, which wouldn't be a problem if the text wasn't made up of numerous short scenes (including unnecessary monologues) that require frequent set changes that drag down momentum with their length as actors move furniture around.

There's a germ of something enjoyable and empathetic in Dancing On Nails, but some serious dramaturgy is needed to let it grow.

Photos by Marina Levitskaya: Top: Peter Van Wagner and Jazmyn Richardson; Bottom: Michael Lewis, Lori Wilner and Peter Van Wagner.

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