Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play begins as senior citizen Lily Harrison hires the younger dance instructor Michael Minetti to come to her St. Petersburg, Florida, condominium each week to give her private dance lessons. Over the course of the six-week session, the two combative opposites find a repetitive patter in their weekly lessons that starts with them bickering and getting on each other's nerves, which forces either Michael to threaten to leave or Lily to tell him to go until they eventually get past their differences, learn a bit from each other, and dance. As their argumentative nature turns to friendship, the 70-year-old Lily and the much younger Michael discover they have much in common and actually need each other.
While Alfieri's script occasionally borders on sitcom territory, and the character of Lily, the Florida setting, and a few of the situations and jokes may more than once remind you of "The Golden Girls," it is also funny, heartwarming, charming, and ultimately touching. Also, Alfieri manages to touch upon, in a fairly sensitive way, the issues of ageism and prejudice without ever pandering. While some of the jokes are coarse and slightly vulgar, and a few are only somewhat amusing, I did find myself laughing out loud several times and being somewhat teary eyed at the end.
Barbara McBain brings humanity to the part of Lily in a careful and cautious performance that doesn't let the character's histrionics or frayed nerves overpower her warmth. Roger Prenger instills Michael with charm and a beautiful sense of realism beneath his initially direct, brash, catty, and somewhat obnoxious exterior. They both reveal their fears and vulnerabilities that lie just under the surface of their steely exteriors and allow each other, and the audience, to see the tenderness and heartfelt emotions underneath. The fact that neither turns their part into a saccharinely sweet caricature and they let us see the compassion their characters learn to share with each other while letting their friendship grow naturally throughout the play is a testament to Joy Bingham Strimple's skillful direction.
Rick Sandifer and Strimple's set design works very well in the small Actor's Café space to depict the living room of Lily's condo. Mickey Courtney's costumes are character-perfect, with several beautiful dresses that look good on McBain. However, since each scene takes place a week apart from the other, it means both actors need to completely change their costumes between each one, making the scene changes somewhat prolonged.
Though Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks may not be a perfect play since the scenes in its first half are a bit repetitive and some of the plot elements are predictable, much of the piece is effective in presenting two different individuals who slowly expose themselves to each other. With affecting performances by Barbara McBain and Roger Prenger and assured direction, Desert Stages Theatre's production will make you smile, laugh, and possibly even get a little misty eyed.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, through March 3, 2019, at Scottsdate Desert Stages Theatre, Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.
Director: Joy Bingham Strimple