For once in my life, I feel at a loss for words to say how wonderful, enjoyable, insightful and delightful the Stage West Community Playhouse production of a play actually is.
Okay, that's four words, so I'm really not completely at a loss.
But Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is so fresh, so incisive, and so doggone well done, both by actors Betsy Glasson and Peter Clapsis and by the crew, that it's simply hard to put it all into words.
It's the story of a woman-of-a-certain-age living in a retiree-filled luxury high rise condo in St. Petersburg Beach who hires a middle-aged man for six weekly ballroom dance lessons. She's spent her adult life as the suppressed wife of a judgmental Baptist preacher; he's spent his partly in New York City pursuing a dance career and, after putting on a few pounds, back in his native state of Florida.
Playwright Richard Alfieri was born in Florida and, after graduating from Yale University, settled in New York to write feature films, novels, and plays. Even so, he must have spent his formative years crouched outside the doors of Florida high rise apartments, because he perfectly captures the feelings, concerns, fears, and hopes of the over-60s set that inhabits these places, as well as the people who drive by them.
The play is filled with lines that Neil Simon only wishes he could write and truths about dispirited and disappointed women worthy of Henrik Ibsen. The difference is that Alfieri's lines cut to the bone, even as they make us smile or laugh out loud.
I could share a page full, but I won't, because those lines deserve to be a surprise when they're spoken and too fine to be given away for the price of a newspaper. So, go buy a ticket. You won't be sorry.
But don't take the kids — or the grandkids. This is a show for grown-ups, with coarse, profane language that is essential to the plot, but caused gasps in the opening night audience — before they caused laughter.
Clapsis, a professional actor and voice-over artist, is sheer joy as the plump, emotionally and sometimes physically damaged dance instructor Michael Minetti. His delivery is so natural that it sometimes feels as though he's forgotten his lines and is simply carrying on a conversation.
Ms. Glasson is radiant as Lily Harrison, the seemingly carefree lady with internal scars as deep as Michael's external ones. Ms. Glasson's eyes sparkle to the back rows, her lithe body and smooth moves completely enchant.
Choreographer Bill Dimmitt shows why he has been able to earn his way as a ballroom dance instructor for more than 20 years, giving Clapsis and Ms. Glasson just the coaching they need to be convincing instructor and pupil. Director Myndee Washington, herself an actor, singer, dancer for 27 years, helped her cast and crew to capture the essence of the characters and the situations to near perfection.
The play was written in 2001 and on Broadway in 2003. It's been translated into 12 languages and had productions in more than 20 countries, so its themes have universal appeal.
Still, its local references, lingo and scenarios make it extra special for those of us who live in Florida and have lived through so much that Alfieri so eloquently details in this play.