Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, by Richard Alfieri.
An Ensemble Theatre Co. production; at Alhecama Theatre,
Friday, June 30. Shows through July 23.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Summer brings out a populist impulse in all the arts, and
theater is no exception. Judging from the audience’s enthusiastic
response opening night, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,
intended as a crowd-pleaser, ought to be a hit. Director Robert
Grande Weiss and Dance’s two stars, Mary Jo Catlett and
Joseph Fuqua, have transformed a potentially maudlin story about
people who need people into two different but equally powerful acts
of very satisfying theater. The first half is nearly all comedy,
and, although there are some moments of anger and a few not-so-dark
shadows indicating what is to come, the laughs are steady,
consistent, and well-earned. Act two plumbs the depths of these
feisty combatants, revealing backstories full of trauma, regret,
and unresolved love. The ending is bittersweet, but the overall
impression is of laughing out loud, again and again, at clever
things said by people you actually like.
Of the two characters, lonely senior Lily Harrison is the more
fully realized on the page, but Joseph Fuqua does a marvelous job
of fleshing out aging gay dance instructor Michael Minetti. Fuqua
manages with confidence Minetti’s quicksilver changes between
recklessly forward and coolly remote. Such strong early
psychological defenses make the deep feelings that break through
later on come across more believably.
Mary Jo Catlett’s consummate craft shows in every detail of her
richly nuanced performance as the widow Lily Harrison. Her Southern
accent doesn’t drift north, her physical characterization is
precise and suggestive, and she never misses a punch line. Watching
her take the heat of Michael Minetti’s banter and gradually warm to
it is almost consolation for the sadness she embodies over the
unhappy aspects of her life — past and present. Catlett, who
already has the part down, will no doubt grow further into the life
of her subject as this witty, tender production evolves. As a
senior living on her own, Lily fears that she has become invisible
to society — someone other people look right through. She need not
be afraid. With Mary Jo Catlett onstage in the role, many happy
theater-goers are going to see Lily Harrison very well indeed.