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Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY :
by Richard Alfieri

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 2643

SHOWING : January 03, 2008 - January 20, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

What could a Southern Baptist widow in Florida possibly have in common with a gay dance instructor from New York? More than you can imagine. Meet Lily Harrison, a spirited 72 year-old widow living in a retirement condo in St. Petersburg, Florida. Enter Michael Minetti, a former Broadway chorus boy now making his living teaching dance to a sometimes challenging roster of clients. As Lily learns the swing, the tango and the waltz, we also see two human beings begin to cross barriers of age and culture to form a moving bond of friendship.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Costume Design Jim Alford
Michael Minetti Robert Egizio
Lily Harrison Jackie Prucha
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REVIEWS

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Jackie and Robert
by Dedalus
Saturday, January 12, 2008
5.0
Let’s call this pseudo-review “Six Theatre Excellence Lessons in Six Paragraphs.”

Lesson One: The Script

Step One in creating an excellent Theatrical Experience is selecting the right script. With Richard Alfieri’s “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” Georgia Ensemble has chosen a winner. A 2003 Broadway also-ran, this play is much better than its early reviews showed. Mr. Alfieri has created two characters who snap and snipe at each other, arguing their way into an unlikely friendship. Yes, he pushes our emotional buttons, but he does it in a way I didn’t mind. These are aggravating characters we can’t help but like. It starts out with a highly contrived set-up – Middle-Aged Gay Dancer is put in a room with an elderly Southern Baptist Preacher’s wife – guess where this is going! But, in spite of what seems to be a highly predictable arc, they end up surprising us. Constantly. The play is structured in seven scenes, the six lessons with a “bonus lesson” added as a coda. Each scene uncovers a different layer of the characters, changing the nature of the friendship with each revelation, and changing our perceptions of them. And, it manages to make us laugh with them (and at them) as we dance along with them.

Lesson Two: The Actors

Step Two is finding the right actors. With Jackie Prucha and Robert Egizio, G.E.T. has found a perfect fit. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Prucha for some time, and she doesn’t disappoint here. Her Lily is all sharp edges and fragile glass. She made me believe her journey in spite of all the surprises the script has in store. And she made me laugh and cry at the same time, just by walking across the room to answer the door. This is my first exposure to Robert Egizio as an actor (though I have previously admired his directing work). His Michael is a perfect match for Ms. Prucha’s Lily, a bull in a China Shop, a large warm fuzzy hiding a fragile center. Together, the two are a perfect team, working off each other’s reactions. I was reminded of the line form “March of the Falsettos”: “Of all the lesser passions, we love fighting the most.” It may be that the characters as written are as shallow as the early critics of the play claimed. But, Ms. Prucha and Mr. Egizio made them live for me. And they dance well together.

Lesson Three: The Direction

Step Three is conceiving and directing the piece to focus our attention on the actors. Blocking for two characters can be a challenge – the impulse is keep out of their way and let them “feel their way” through the play. Robert J. Farley has made the more difficult choice of making each and every move add to the arc of the play. Not afraid to let them sit and talk to each other for long stretches, he is also not afraid to let them square off and argue from opposite sides of the stage. Each character seems to have his or her “safe place” where they can feel some protection, and each seems to be unafraid to “invade” the other. Or maybe, Mr. Farley stayed out of their way, and trusted their good instincts. Sometimes, it’s hard to judge.

Lesson Four: The Set

Step Four is to put the story on a set that reflects the characters and adds to the experience. Designer Scott Sargent has created a very formally symmetrical set, Lily’s St. Petersburg Beach condominium (with cathedral ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows to die for). It is backed by a Gulf-and Sky cyclorama that gives plenty of opportunities for mood-enhancing pictures. And, it perfectly reflects Lily’s “everything must be perfectly in its place” character, a fragile China Shop that is invaded by Michael’s expansive bull.

Lesson Five: The Tech Support

Step Five is to add a tech support team that is in tune with the director and designer’s vision. The perfect sunsets, the back-lit tableaus, the bright storm-required artificial light, the mood-setting surf sounds, the musical selections – all are just right. If there is such a thing as a perfect “tech ensemble” – this is it. Kudos to Mr. Sargent, Jim Alford (Costumes), Mitch Marcus (Lights), Jason Polhemus (Sound), and Maclare Park (Props).

Lesson Six: Putting it all Together

And, of course, the final step is to make all the aspects work well together. A play should be more than the sum of its parts, and here it is. Afterwards, I can sit down and praise all the parts separately (as a well-behaved pseudocritic should), but, when all is said and done, if all the elements don’t gel, it becomes a shallow exercise. Here, the effort is funny, moving, and sublime. And the final moment is a perfect amalgam of character, performance, lighting, and song. It made me stand up and cheer. I walked out with a definite dance in my heart.

And, since this is the first play I’ve seen in 2008, it really raises the bar for every other production.

Happy New Year!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


1/12/2008 Addendum/Rebuttal

Since I first sent this in to Theatre Buzz, reviews in the AJC and Creative Loafing have more or less echoed the original New York critics in slamming the script for being predictable and breaking no new ground. In rebuttal, I’d like to make the observation that any historical script would be equally predictable – can you make a credible story about JFK’s Presidency in which he doesn’t die at the end? I suppose you could, if you limit its time scale, but, it too would be predictable. I think what sets this script apart from completely cliched drivel is its dialogue. These are snappy conversations that fully reflect the characters – each has his/her own “voice,” and none of their lines can be dismissed as contrived. And, I do believe there are surprises. The playwright creates characters who fall victim to their preconceptions and prejudices, and he structures the play in a way that causes us to fall victim right along with them. When surprises come (and, in spite of the “predictability,” they do come), they affect us the same way they affect the characters – by making us realize that our expectations were based not on the characters themselves, but on our “image” of the characters.

At least both Mainstream Critics acknowledged the excellence of Ms. Prucha and Mr. Egizio …

-- BKR
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Golden Girl Meets Solid Gold Dancer and Creates Golden Moments
by line!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
5.0
I got a chance to go see this show on it’s preview night (Jan 2) at Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET) in Roswell. I have seen a few other shows at GET, and while the shows I saw were good, they felt a bit “clinical” and “sterile” to me. They were very good from a technical standpoint, but they didn’t “move me”.

To put it simply, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” moved me.

Big Time!

The script isn’t totally responsible for making this such a good show. It is somewhat clichéd in its conception and structure. It is not exceptionally clever or artistic in its approach, but it is sprinkled with some of the best dialogue “zingers” and laugh lines I’ve heard in long time. The progression of the characters is fairly predictable too. We can all see where things are going, long before they get there. The “surprises”, “confessions” and “shocking developments” are not unexpected.

But as they say about life, “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

The characters are stereotypes designed and built for conflict: A gay dance instructor, with a chip on his shoulder (thanks to some bad experiences), who was once an aspiring Broadway “chorus boy”; and a “weaned-on-a-lemon”, ultra-conservative, septuagenarian Southern Baptist Preacher’s wife. They wage war on each other’s values in the living room of her St. Petersburg, Florida retirement condo (with a view of the beach to die for).

In the end they discover their commonalities outnumber their differences and they become comrades and allies in life. (cue the “After School Secial” theme music). Like I said, not particularly original or clever, but that doesn’t stop this show from being thoroughly enjoyable.

What really makes this show transcend its clichéd conventions and stereotypes are the performances of Jackie Prucha as Lilly Harrison and Robert Egizio as Michael Minetti.

These are two incredibly talented actors with lots of experience behind them (particularly playing these types of characters). You are watching two strong, capable talents playing to their strengths. These actors know how to make these “types” into full-bodied “real people” that the audience can relate to and care about. They know when to let the script’s clichéd moments and ideas play as written, and they know when to re-shape them using nuance and consummate acting skill.

They play together like an ensemble. You never get the sense of competition or “one-ups-manship”. These are actors who compliment each other’s timing, technique and style so wonderfully, you buy their characters and situations completely (even though you know it’s a cliché). Neither one plays to the audience. They play to each other. That really heightens the emotion of their scenes (and the emotional investment the audience makes in their characters).

Another wonderful thing about this production is its mix of reality and theatricality.

The direction by GET Artistic Director Robert Farley effectively communicates the characters differences and commonalities through blocking that visually underlines the dialogue. When they don’t agree, they are physically far apart and when they do agree (or are finding “common ground”) they are physically closer. I know that sounds simple. It isn’t. The blocking is more varied than that, but it doesn’t add any unnecessary movement or layers either. It keeps the focus on the content of the scene. That’s what makes it so effective.

And then when the dancing begins, the reality fades into the theatricality. That’s when the lighting changes and the blocking have more in common with a lavish musical than a comedy about giving a dance lesson in a retirement condo in St. Pete! The actors move to a higher level on the stage as they dance and they are frequently framed in silhouette. Just like in the old movies! It is extremely effective and emotionally satisfying.

The set and lighting design have the same blend of reality and theatricality. In the stark lighting of the realistic moments, the set projects a kind of clinical luxury with a great (but undefined) vista. It embodies Lilly Harrison’s cold, fastidious and orderly approach to life. But when the dancing starts, the lighting effectively moves the set to another place. The vista becomes defined and the room looses its chill and becomes warm along with the characters. Again, it is very effective and emotional.

I really feel that the acting talent, the thoughtful direction and the production values applied to this production lift a decent script into an exceptionally gratifying evening of theatre. By all means, if you get a chance, go see this show. It is “golden”!
-Rial
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