by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's important to be reminded of the need for simple compassion. We live in a world of stereotypes: It's easy to be quick about sizing up people and then, even more quickly, dismissing them. That's why it's so annoying to have potentially genuine moments of generosity and affection undercut by the predictable, cloying bit of manipulation that is Richard Alfieri's plot in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (at Interplayers through March 17). To arrive at the moments of genuine compassion in this play, you have to grind your teeth through a lot of scenes.
Alfieri's scenes are predictable in their structure and in the revelations they attempt (none too well) to withhold. When a lonely retiree (Kathie Doyle-Lipe) invites a bitchy dance instructor (Joel Richards) into her hardwood-floor living room for the title's course of instruction, you can just sense how differences in age, class, gender, social values, religion, sexual orientation -- and preferences in the color and material of throw pillows -- will all become debating points.
Even worse, the tonal shifts in Alfieri's writing are head-snapping: first Lily's stomping off the stage, then Michael's barging out the door. He lets fly with a few choice uncensored thoughts, so she's offended; then she lets some of her prejudices show, and he's off somewhere sulking.
Then they make up, toss off some wit-cracks and pause under a pin spot just long enough to let you know that this particular dance lesson has concluded -- and also that we have reached an Emotional Moment for Reflection. These are corny, begging-for-applause moments that director Esta Rosevear should have excised.
As Lily and Michael, Doyle-Lipe and Richards are reasonably good half-characters: Neither is persuasive during the more serious moments, which leads to an imbalance in this production. At least both are accomplished comedic actors: Doyle-Lipe with her engaging elfin grin as she throws her head back in glee during a particularly torrid tango, Richards with his consistent cheerfulness as he enters each scene in yet another flamboyant dance instructor's costume. But the comic rhythms -- the extensions of sly grins, the holding for laugh lines -- creep over into the dramatic exchanges, particularly in Richards' case. As a result, the pain of being ostracized and the sadness over loss aren't fully conveyed.
The second act -- a little cha-cha, a few Beach Boys songs and dollops of loneliness and personal loss -- doesn't get any better, with over-long pauses either for laugh lines or in hopes of dramatic effect. Meanwhile, there are some weird lighting changes taking place out there on the veranda.
The set, by William Rosevear (husband of director Esta), needs to look affluent and does; it was a mistake in his lighting design, however, to let Lily's 14th-floor "view" be represented by flashing pink and orange lights. The sunsets that Lily and Michael enjoy should have taken place over the audience's heads.
The dancing sequences (swing, tango, foxtrot and more) seemed cute but tentative, with Doyle-Lipe struggling to appear a little worse as a dancer than she really is and Richards doing the reverse. Undeniably, there's something about two otherwise unalike people waltzing in the moonlight -- it's almost a universal symbol of amity. But like so much in Six Dance Lessons, the scene-ending pas de deux sequences seem unearned and contrived.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t one point, Lily says to Michael (I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly), "How terribly you must have suffered to have become so jaded." That's one stilted, preachy and indicating line, folks. Emotionally, it's on the nose in the sense of being predictable. By telling instead of showing, it narrates character instead of innovating behavior that's unexpected. And the problem is that no one actually talks like that except in Harlequin Romances -- and in the overheated imagination of a man who's desperate to round off the formulaic comedy that's he's constructing.
Twice on Saturday night, I heard a playgoer audibly call out a major plot point just before its big onstage revelation. Somebody might as well have held up a signboard announcing what was going to happen next. Or maybe not -- we'd figured it out several minutes before, anyway.
The final scene is absolutely overloaded with emotional revelations. I'm all in favor of gaining a better understanding of people, but my compassion gets stretched to the breaking point when one tear-stained Lifetime TV tragedy after another gets ladled, maudlin and dripping, right into my lap.
Alfieri's play underlines all its emotional connections, and the result is that it cheapens all of them.