Review: ‘Dancing Lessons’ is signature Julianne Boyd
By Mark St. Germain.
Directed by Julianne Boyd.
“Others fear kissing is an attack of intimacy.”
You might wonder what the fuss is all about concerning Mark St. Germain’s new play, a romantic comedy (two words that usually bring a groan into a conversation) called “Dancing Lessons.” Well, it’s about an injured dancer and a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s a bit different. It has John Cariani in the male role; his play, “Almost, Maine,” has been seen locally in at least four theaters in three states over the past few years. Paige Davis, just out of “Chicago” on Broadway, is playing the woman. Unlike most of St. Germain’s recent plays there are no famous people in the play, not even one referred to: No Freud, no Dr. Ruth, no Hemingway or Fitzgerald, not even one Roosevelt in sight.
And then there is Julianne Boyd, the Barrington Stage Company’s artistic director and founder, finally directing a show this season.
Boyd, who has a knack and a flair going for these intimate plays, has brought her finest touches to this show. As in so many of her efforts before this, the actors seem to inhabit their roles to the point where curtain calls feel oddly intrusive. Boyd has brought us closer to the characters through her work with the actors and when they break their reality to clasp hands and bow we have a moment of creepiness knowing we’re doing what we’re supposed to but wondering how the folks on stage will react to so much unexpected noise. That is the unusual level of intimacy Boyd manages to place before us. It makes the lines the author has put into the mouths of the actors all the more poignant and charming.
Charm is a difficult word to use with Ever, the man in the play. The abruptness and classic civility that come with his Asperger’s reflect his peculiar genius and downplay his inherent lovable qualities. Cariani makes this man both awkward and intense and provides a perfect picture of a New York City neighbor to be avoided at all costs. His growth during the ninety-five minutes of this one act play is remarkable. Never shy, but definitely off-putting, Ever intrudes on his injured female neighbor with a special need and makes himself as unwanted as ever and yet he is ingratiating in the oddest ways and creates a niche for himself in her life. I loved watching him make this work. I mean, I loved seeing how he did it.
Paige Davis’ Senga (that’s her real name) is a dark and down creature who is struggling with day to day existence in a world that doesn’t seem to know there is an organization known as “Career Transition for Dancers.” Senga needs to find them and start making a new life for herself when she meets her odd neighbor, Ever, and embarks on a life-shifting relationship. Davis is wonderful as the graceful imp whose earth-bound feet won’t support her any longer. Living in a one-room lair that shelters and hides her, Senga is the loneliest gal in town but it isn’t desparation that drives her into this new affair with an unlikely partner, it is something strong, something deeper, a little something called compassion. The beauty in Davis’ playing of the role comes through that specific emotional stage just south of empathy. Davis handles all of the transitions in Senga’s journey with the most delicate touches.
In both characters the fine hand of Boyd’s understanding comes through as these two choice players portray the best mismatch since “Born Yesterday”‘s Billie checked into a Washington, D.C., hotel and started her education. Laughs abound in this new play and so do those plucked heartstrings. The wedding of words, vision and interpretation result in a perfect evening of theatre.
The set by James J. Fenton works wonderfully as it transports among places including Senga’s apartment, the Millenium Hotel Ballroom and a lecture hall at the NY Institute of Technology. Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes help us visually see the inside and outside of the characters. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting includes some abrupt blackouts, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long while and which I appreciated as the scene endings don’t always have a real verbal button to them, an issue I’ve raised before in St. Germain’s work.
All in all this is an excellent new play given a first-rate production under the supervision of a fine director who has chosen two remarkable actors to work with in creating this special comedy event. If that’s not enough superlatives to warrant a ticket sale, then I’m the only one not doing the perfect job.
At Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass. Through August 24. For information, showtimes and tickets, consult the Berkshire Edge Calendar.