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‘Dancing Lessons’ at ETC

Funny and Touching Play About Two Lonely, Passionate People

Trevor Peterson and Leilani Smith star in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of “Dancing Lessons” by Mark St. Germain, directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the New Vic Theatre in Santa Barbara. | Credit: David Bazemore Photo
Photo: David Bazemore PhotoLeilani Smith and Trevor Peterson star in the Ensemble Theater Company production of “Dancing Lessons” by Mark St. Germain, directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the New Vic Theatre in Santa Barbara.

Two lonely yet passionate people, one a successful scientist who’s on the autism spectrum and the other an injured, “neurotypical” Broadway dancer who has been doubly traumatized, meet and connect in this funny and touching play. Although there are real dancing lessons involved, the lessons at the core of this show are the ones that Senga Quinn (Leilani Smith) and Ever Montgomery (Trevor Peterson) learn about themselves as they team up to overcome their fears and go through on their desires. Two terrific performances and a light touch by director Saundra McClain combine with a new angle on the script to make this a refreshing experience and a great finale to the season at Ensemble Theatre Company. 

Although it’s easy to be swept along by playwright Mark St. Germain’s clever dialogue, especially when Ever slings one of his unintentional put-downs, it’s the slow burn of the actors’ physicality that makes this production special. Smith delivers Senga’s long arc of self-realization with precision and grace. She builds tension with the obstacle of the brace that she must wear on one of her fine dancer’s legs, and Peterson ratchets that tension up exponentially when he reveals Ever’s phobia of touching or being touched by another person. 

Occasional contrivances such as Ever’s connection to climate science or a conversation about old sitcoms that could be from any random show cannot undermine the propulsive dramatic energy of these two actors as they push deeper into one another’s worlds. See it for the performances and relish the way these wonderful actors do the world’s oldest dance. 

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