At the heart of comedy lies a not-so-secret source of power: the truth. Nothing is funnier than a well-timed, accurate, and thoroughly inappropriate observation. In Dancing Lessons, the new play by Mark St. Germain that previews June 13-14 and will be playing June 15-30 at Ensemble Theatre Company’s New Vic, that propensity to slay the audience with staggering bluntness belongs to Ever Montgomery (Trevor Peterson), an awkward geoscientist with a problem. He’s got a big awards dinner coming up in a few days, and he needs to learn how to dance.
Fortunately for him, this all takes place in a New York City apartment building, and he’s got a neighbor, Senga Quinn (Leilani Smith), who dances on Broadway. Why wouldn’t he knock on her door and ask for dancing lessons? Senga is injured now and can’t be expected to demonstrate as well as she would if she were healthy, but that shouldn’t keep her from helping Ever out.
Yes, this sounds like a familiar setup for a romantic comedy, but having read Mark St. Germain’s clever and soulful script, and knowing the extraordinary talents of these two performers, it’s fair to expect some fireworks from this turn around the romcom dance floor. When I spoke with Trevor Peterson by phone last week, he commended the play for taking an original approach to his character’s position on “the spectrum.” “Ever doesn’t want to be neurotypical,” Peterson said of his character, who may have Asperger’s, “and he sees Senga as a chance to break out.” For those of you who have been following Ensemble Theatre Company, this is a bit of an all-star show, with Peterson returning after playing Biff in Death of a Salesman earlier this season, and Leilani Smith and director Saundra McClain coming back after their great success with Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel in 2015.