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Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks
< Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks is predictably Broadway bound in the spring of 2002. Even without its incandescent stars Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce, Richard Alfieri's light comedy will have a long and happy life in dinner theatre, community theatre and wherever two good actors are willing to follow in Hagen and Pierce's footsteps.
Critics may dismiss it but most audiences will love it and some may even learn a thing or two about dancing. Reminiscent of Same Time Next Year in structure, the play's seven scenes depict the six lessons plus a bonus.
Lily Harrison (Hagen), an elderly widow, and Michael Minetti (Pierce), a gay dance instructor, are bitter and lonely for very different reasons. Lily does something about it. She's the one who always has -- beginning with the tragic death of her daughter and a problematic marriage to a minister about which Michael quips "That's what you get for marrying outside your gender."
Its hate at first sight for the disparate pair which gives Pierce and Hagen a chance to show their acting chops. When Michael tells Lily, ""You have to get used to my sense of humor," and Lily quiet Do I? is a two-word acting lesson all by itself.
As Michael soon discovers, Lily doesn't really need a dance instructor. She knows all the steps. She likes to dance in the privacy of her home and is willing to pay for a partner. What she didn't expect was an angry young man with a vicious sense of humor, not likeable, but with a chorus boy's instinct for making his moment. But Lily gives as good as she gets and what we get are such stinging exchanges as her gasping "I didn't mean it!" and his "You meant it. . . you just didn't mean to say it!"
Hagen, who debuted in 1938 with the Lunts in The Sea Gull and played Desdemona to Paul Robeson's Othello with Jose Ferrer as Iago in 1943, creates a totally believable character without mannerisms (and more recently in Collected Stories). She conveys a life history with a look. Hyde Pierce's flair for physical comedy has always stood him in good stead and here he uses it to telling effect. Best known to mass audiences for the long-running TV sitcom Frasier, the Yale graduate has many classical and contemporary stage credits in New York and elsewhere.
Roy Christopher's bland pastel set for Lily's condo in St. Petersburg, Florida, gives no hint of the literary world-traveling teacher that Lily made of herself. The star of the set is the bayview picture window where Tom Ruzika's lighting brilliantly creates the changing skyscape. Helen Butler has designed the seven costume changes that cleverly define character and Kay Cole staged the dances that close every scene.
Over the course of the play the two prickly personalities gradually wade into the best friendship either has ever had -- despite Lily's uptightness which irritates Michael and Michael's rudeness which Lily hates. The revelations bring them closer over a seemingly unbridgeable gap. When, like a proper minister's wife, Lily is shocked to hear Michael sometimes pays for sex, he reminds her flatly. "We all pay for sex one way or another,". If we have to pay for a share of clichés and a sometime sitcom feel, it's a small price for the play's moments of genuine humor and pain --and those wonderful acting lessons from Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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