Ballroom blitz

Though actress Barbara Bradshaw is quick to point out that “people shouldn’t come to this play expecting Dancing with the Stars,” there’s a good chance popular dance shows will boost appreciation for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.

Two to tango: Flat Rock Playhouse introduces the odd couple of dance. Photo By Mike Dirks

The Richard Alfieri play, now on stage at Flat Rock Playhouse, pairs a well-off retiree of a certain age with a much younger dance instructor—and comic high jinks ensue. The end result is a May/December friendship, but how the two characters get there is the story at the heart of this former Broadway show. The production premiered, famously, in 2001 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, with Frasier star David Hyde Pierce and the late Uta Hagen in the roles of Michael Minetti and Lily Harrison. After a Broadway run of 34 performances, a movie version starring Shirley MacLaine and Rupert Everett was filmed but never released.

Luckily, the theatrical version continues to win audiences, and the current dance craze (fueled by shows such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance along with movies Dance with Me, Take the Lead and The Tango Lesson) maintains the palpable romance of ballroom-dance lessons.

But Six Dance Lessons—for all its heart and emotion—isn’t a romance. “It’s a comedy about two people getting to know each other,” explains Bradshaw. The dancing, which actually comprises only a few minutes of stage time at each “lesson,” is “a wonderful framework on which to hang the meat of the play,” the actress says.

She describes her character, Lily, as “the wife of a minister who finds herself retired in Florida in a high-rise condo, and she doesn’t know how to reach out to the rest of the world.” So, from her gilded tower, the formidable Mrs. Harrison signs up for dance lessons, which brings New York transplant and former chorus boy Michael to her door.

At first glance, the two have nothing in common and quickly butt heads. Bradshaw calls them “two people who need each other but don’t know they need each other.” Such is the tension between them that each dance they learn speaks to their mental states: Imagine a fiery tango performed by battling partners.

Though the set up—two people from opposite worlds brought together for comedic affect—is hardly new, critics have applauded Alfieri’s script for years. Most theater buffs agree that the production, ultimately, comes down to what the two actors bring to their interpretation.

Bradshaw’s take is firmly rooted in humor. “The comedy comes out of the reality of the situation,” she says. “It’s not a farce with doors slamming in and out; it’s more like a well-written Neil Simon play.”

The actress is intimately familiar with the inner workings of Six Dance Lessons: Besides the two-and-a-half weeks of eight-hour-long rehearsals for the Flat Rock Playhouse run, she and David Weincek (who plays Michael) previously performed the play together at the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. She is approaching this latest performance with renewed excitement, insisting that as much as she loves the dancing, it’s “the journey of the play” that truly captures her imagination.

who: Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks
what: A sharp comedy about the most unlikely of friendships
where: Flat Rock Playhouse
when: Wednesday, May 21, through Saturday, June 7. 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. ($29 with discounts for seniors, students and groups. or 693-0731.)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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