No, it’s not just for ladies of a certain age. Richard Alfieri’s “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” is billed as an International Hit Play. O’Connell and Company, well-known in Buffalo for its long-running revue, “Diva by Diva,” has taken on this charming selection to open the 2014-2015 season.
The seven scenes are named for the dance numbers that nimble instructor Michael Minetti (we find out along with Lily that it is his first lesson, too) and 68-year old Lily Harrison (we find out along with Michael that she has taken a few years off the candles on the latest cake) ostensibly meet to undertake. In good faith. Sort of.
Anne Gayley and Gregory Gjurich are believable in their parts as Lily and Michael– she is chic, fit, agreeable and contentious by turns, and he is energetic, moody, insightful but blunt. Not only that, they can dance!
Gayley has received the Artie Award three times and also holds a Career Achievement Award. She has appeared in productions for Buffalo-area theatres that include Irish Classical Theatre and Jewish Repertory Theatre, and has been a director as well at O’Connell and Company. Gjurich has acted in “The Comedy of Errors” with Shakespeare in Delaware Park as well as with O’Connell productions “Working,” “Over the Pub,” and “Gentleman’s Gentleman.”
At just over 100 seats, the theatre space at The Park School works well for a play in which two characters arrive at intimacy—but not what you are thinking– in two acts. The scenery is always the same: Lily Harrison’s living room with its loveseat, chair, grand piano, telephone, small serving bar, plants, books, and a rug. But the characters bring an assortment of emotions–anger, sorrow, pretense, shame, and bravery– to a script that also offers the audience an array of costume changes, nostalgic music, and new steps in each scene.
As early as Act I, “You don’t really need lessons,” Michael says to Lily in one of the play’s double-entendre moments. So why did she hire him? That is what underlies the script and the surprises that come with each scene. By the third scene, we are already primed for the next time the phone rings and the next argument. Besides, Lily, having been married to a minister, has lots of unexpected stories to tell, says she wants to break a couple of commandments, and becomes a welcome listener for Michael’s own unspent grief.
Alfieri gets it right about condo living, too. How much do we know about neighbors who call about the noise from energetic dance lessons or to talk about a coming trip to Epcot? According to Michael, after all, Epcot is just a compression of the time and space necessary to get from one epic place to another. And so that becomes another thoughtful metaphor in the play.
How much does anyone know about the time left for anyone else to view the sunset? Or whether the person who is only giving a dance lesson and the person with the admirable view aren’t there for a more profound reason, one which Lily and Michael dance toward in seven scenes?
Well worth seeing, this play will continue until October 19 at The Park School, where Mary Kate O’Connell is Artistic/Executive Director of O’Connell and Company in residence at The Park School.
Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College. She also writes the Buffalo Alternative Medicine column.