Life may be a dance, but none of us know the steps and we’re all listening to a different song. In DANCING LESSONS now playing at North Coast Rep through October, 3rd shows that all it takes is a little empathy, and trying to stretch out your comfort zone to find someone who will dance along with you, even if just for one song.
As the play opens Senga (Leilani Smith) is on the couch, huddled in sweats, a blanket, and surrounded by empty snack packages and bottles of beverages. When a neighbor she doesn’t know knocks on her door, the audience sees that all her comfort was covering up a fully braced leg injury. It turns out the neighbor is Ever (Christopher M. Williams), who found out from talking to their superintendent that Senga used to be a dancer on Broadway before she got hurt. He’s willing to pay her to teach him to dance by Saturday for an event he has to attend.
It’s not just that this random request is coming from a stranger, or that her superintendent seems very gossipy that makes this interaction out of the ordinary. The other notable thing Ever’s manner and physicality. Ever is autistic, and in this case, manifests through a lot of physical and behavioral tics like rocking, facial tics, the inability to understand many social cues or situations, and he doesn’t like to be touched. Ever is determined to dance because he is being honored with an award – he is a respected college professor and wants to fit in during the awards ceremony.
What follows next is an exploration of opposites who try to understand one another in order to help themselves cope with whatever steps are coming next for them. While Ever’s hurdles may be more immediately obvious, it’s clear that Senga’s struggles are the deeper ones as she struggles with coping with the injury while steadfastly maintaining that she will dance again. In the meantime, she is self-soothing with booze, pills, and avoiding any commitment.
Smith gives a nuanced performance as Senga’sstruggles slowly bubble to the surface. Learning to be honest with herself, and what she is feeling is a struggle as she lies to many including herself. Senga goes on an emotional journey and Smith makes them all feel authentic.
Williams as Ever is a gifted comedian and is able to avoid what could easily be overplaying the mannerisms of his character. Ever is smart, sweet, capable, and funny but he is never the object of the joke. Ever is the heart of the show and the audience is clearly rooting for him to succeed.
Directed by Richard Baird is able to build a lot of layers of connection, humor, and conflict during the 90-minute show. He makes sure the show is focused on the power of connection, and building an authentic relationship between two opposite people.
Written by Mark St.Germain, the show tackles everything from Autism, emotional bonds, climate change, and personal connection. St. Germain doesn’t offer any easy answers to any of these topics, but the power of connecting with others to make change happen is a core component. There is a pivotal moment that occurs in the play, after firmly drawing the lines and boundaries of each character, as emotions and stakes get heightened that may feel a bit rushed to some (it did to me).
Marty Burnett designed Senga’s apartment with blinds closed to keep the world out and also allows for projections by Aaron Rumley. Lighting by Matt Novotny, costumes by Elisa Benzoni, and choreography by Cate Caplin create this fictional New York moment.
DANCING LESSONS proves that life may be a dance, but it’s one worth the effort of learning some steps that may be outside of our comfort zone.
DANCING LESSONS is playing through October 3rd at North Coast Repertory Theatre. For ticket and showtime information go to www.northcoastrep.org
North Coast rep is requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of the performance date required. Masks are required whenever indoors and throughout the performance.
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