By Karen Isaacs
Dancing Lessons which is getting its world premier at Barrington Stage Company through Aug. 24 is a sweet romantic comedy that is somewhat predictable but still charming.
Mark St. Germain, who seems like a resident playwright with the company, is probably best known for his Freud’s Last Session which also premiered there as well as others including Dr. Ruth, The God Committee, Ears on a Beatle.
In this play, St. Germain establishes the two characters immediately. Senga Quinn is a 30-something Broadway dancer who has sustained a serious, probably career-ending injury. She stays in her NYC apartment moping, talking to her aunt via telephone and avoiding the world.
Within minutes of the play’s beginning, Ever Montgomery knocks on her door. He is awkward both physically and socially. Ever has Asperger’s syndrome which is on the autism scale. He offers her over $2000 to for one hour of dance instruction. He is accepting an award at a gala and he feels he must dance at least one time.
You don’t need to be a detective to quickly get a sense of where this is headed. You wouldn’t be totally wrong although St. Germain does throw a few curves at the audience.
Each reveals a great deal about themselves and Ever teaches Senga — the odd names are part of a joke — about autism, though he feels his condition should still be called Asperger’s. Senga begins to accept the reality of her condition — that she may never dance again — and her depression lifts just a bit.
The ending is non-conclusive, but you hope that these two have a future together — they are obviously good for each other.
What puts this production way above the average light romantic comedy is not only the subject matter, but the performances, direction and production attributes.
The set by James J. Fenton perfectly captures a small, old NYC apartment. This is no glamorous building with a gigantic amount of space. It is small and cluttered. Mary Louis Geiger, the lighting designer, establishes both the space and the mood beautifully. In addition, credit must be given to costume designer Sara Jean Tosetti and projection designer Andrew Bauer. The later does a great job at establishing the scenes that occur outside the apartment.
John Cariani — a fine actor as well as a playwright — is absolutely spot-on as Ever. If you have known someone with Asperger’s or similar, you will immediately recognize the mannerisms, the way of speaking and the body language. He never lets it slip for a moment during this 90+ minute play. Paige Davis has the less showy role as Senga, but she too embodies the character. Her transformation is more subtle but just as important. She begins to gain self-awareness — and is ready to take the next step in her life.
That these two scarred characters seem so ready for the future — and we so care about them — is a credit not only to St. Germain but also to director Julianne Boyd. She never lets the play descend to cheap laughs nor sentimentality.
If there is one quibble, it is at times the play seems like a lecture on autism; but then again, that it very much in keeping with the character of Ever.
Dancing Lessons will have a long life in regional theaters and off-Broadway. But the original cast and production has set a very high standard.