‘Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks’ Teaches Us Quite A Lot About Love
Though the two main characters of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, Lillian and Michael, are both loners by nature, there’s no arguing with the fact that it does, indeed, take two to tango. To name a few more of the styles that this odd couple ends up traversing over the course of the popular play currently on view at Empire Stage from fledgling company Artbuzz Theatrics, it also takes two to swing, waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, and at least in some cases, contemporary dance.
Ostensibly, Michael has been hired by Lillian in order to provide her with the education described in the play’s title. But as is gradually revealed over the course of the show’s back and forth, she’s actually already pretty light on her feet; and instead has mostly hired Michael because she found herself wanting for a partner, a fact that points towards a more general need for companionship in her life that she has steadfastly refused to acknowledge in any more conventional manner.
But as opposed to this charming play being a rom-com in which these two central characters are bound to end up in a happy union by curtain call, there’s not only a significant age difference hampering any chance of a romantic connection but another more fundamental incompatibility—Lilian is a 68 year old straight woman while the middle-aged Michael prefers the company of men.
Over time, it eventually makes itself known that Lillian was not only widowed but suffered a serious family trauma that led to a schism with her husband decades before his death, and has since found herself too guarded and anxious to risk making other connections, be they with potential partners or even potential friends.
Meanwhile, after losing a special lover and subsequently finding himself in a string of bad relationships, Michael also seems to have come to the conclusion that isolation is a better option than investing in another fragile connection—at least until he meets one very special lady.
Though the two’s initial meeting gets off on a bit of a wrong foot as some mutually well-intended but nonetheless hurtful lies are exchanged and the force of each character’s bitterness leads to some pretty harsh words, for some reason, these two lost souls keep giving chances to one another, and, soon enough, have even started to bond.
Despite each character’s sharp edges, each is ultimately likable, with the two sharing a penchant for irreverent, raunchy humor that crackles throughout the script. Interspersed among the jokes, you’ll also find some surprisingly profound insight about matters like the nature of solitude or the tedium of old age.
However, there is a sense in which this 2001 play by Richard Alfieri now appears somewhat dated, particularly in some of the stereotypes Lillian references in regards to Michael’s sexuality. There also seems to be a degree of sanitization that comes with the story’s sentimentality; while it is often affecting, the story is seldom truly surprising, hitting familiar beats well but never fully transcending a somewhat formulaic plot.
Yet noticing this did little to dampen the power of the play’s conclusion, in which one character’s confession of dire circumstances–a revelation I won’t spoil here with any specifics–leads another to make a selfless offer to stay and remain emotionally invested in a situation that would prompt many, with good reason, to up and run for the hills.
There’s also more than enough reason to see this play in the performances of Lory Reyes and Larry Buzzeo as its central–and only–characters. If the two stars seem particularly adept at this particular Dance, it may actually be because this isn’t their first waltz, with this being a remount of an earlier production of the same title by the West Boca Theatre Company.
But this fact doesn’t make the ease with which each actor inhabits their role, and the chemistry that the two maintain throughout, any less impressive. If anything, I’d have to note that Reyes sometimes seemed to occasionally falter in conveying transitions between emotional beats, especially when sudden changes were called for, though perhaps even this was more noticeable in contrast to Buzzeo’s seemingly effortless fluidity and charisma throughout.
Delightful costumes keep the show visually interesting despite the fact that it takes place largely in a single apartment, and clips of famous dances shown during the play’s transitions add atmosphere and spice.
All in all, despite its flaws, the touching lessons that this show offers will likely have broader applicability for most of us than any introduction to the waltz. Though you’ll have to see it yourself if you want to feel their full impact, here’s how I might try to sum up some of the most important ones: it might still be worth trying to find common ground with someone you seem to have nothing in common with; it’s never too late to take a risk and reach out for friendship; and the rewards of opening your heart fully to another person are altogether unparalleled.
Since few of us couldn’t benefit from a refresher on these eternal truths that also happens to be enormously entertaining, hopefully you’ll trust me when I say that Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is a better teacher than I am, and that it’s a show worth putting in the effort to see before it closes up on this coming July 2!