THERE’S a rasping buzz at the door. The lady of the house checks the credentials of her visitor before admitting him to her upscale Florida coast condo for a series of emotionally loaded ballroom dance lessons.
Rosemary Luke is Lily Harrison, the seventy-something matron who has contracted for the lessons. Lewis Rhames is Michael Minetti, the acerbic ex-Broadway chorus boy a generation younger than she who has agreed to teach Lily to waltz, fox trot, tango, cha-cha, jitterbug and perform contemporary dance contortions. Cautiously introducing themselves with some carefully crafted lies, they size each other up like nervous boxers. She admits to being a “tight-arsed old biddy.” He peppers his dialogue with spurts of four-letter-word irritation and shows a grating commitment to coloring luridly outside the lines. Their first dance lesson is tense and unpromising.
That’s the opening of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, a bright and appealing two-character comedy/drama now playing at the Carl Cherry in Carmel.
The six lesson structure provides a tidy frame for the gradual collapse of the fears, deceptions and lies of this mismatched odd couple and the growth of a touching platonic love affair between them.
Playwright Richard Alfieri has a way with sharp and funny dialogue and director Deanna Ross keeps the action and the quips moving along briskly. Luke and Rhames are adroit and charming in the comedy segments. In darker moments they clearly illustrate the pain Lily and Michael are experiencing, but (except in one exciting explosion of raw anger from Rhames) they do it with a restraint that keeps it from hurting as deeply as it might.
Rhames and Devin Gregory have designed an impressive single set backed by big picture window views of the shifting Gulf Coast waters outside Lily’s upstairs unit. Ziona Goren’s costumes offer an attractive parade of fashion choices each character makes for the current week’s dance genre. Musically, there’s a nostalgic trip down a pop music memory lane, frequently interrupted by phone calls from a persnickety neighbor downstairs.
It’s an agreeable two hours of character driven theatre. Too bad it had such a small opening night audience. Does the Cherry need to re-assess and perk up its publicity plan?
Six Dance Lessons continues through March 4th.