Watching the splendid Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce strut their acting stuff in Richard Alfieri’s ultra-slight “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” sometimes feels like watching Baryshnikov do the hokey pokey. They do it with all the commitment, grace and perfect timing that make them sensational actors, thrilling to see perform. Arthur Allen Seidelman’s direction is properly unobtrusive, letting these actors do their thing and do it well. There’s not a false moment to be found between them, which makes “Six Dance Lessons” a pleasurable, if decidedly slim, theatrical experience.
There’s not a whole lot of dancing in “Six Dance Lessons,” so don’t take the metaphor too literally. The brief bits of swing, tango, waltz and foxtrot come mostly at the ends of a series of formulaic scenes in which the lonely, elderly Lily Harrison (Hagen) and her lonely young dance instructor Michael Minetti (Pierce, sporting a goatee) argue, make up, get interrupted by a nosy neighbor, learn something new about each other, come to become good friends and then do a little dance. The final moments of each scene form a lovely tableau of togetherness, with the St. Petersburg beach sunset nicely captured in Roy Christopher’s realistic Florida condo set and Tom Ruzika’s lighting.
There’s really not much more to it than that, except for Helen Butler’s costumes — Michael dresses according to the dance he’ll be teaching — and the relatively mundane details of the characters, revealed intermittently and predictably as some early lies are exposed. Lily’s a retired teacher from South Carolina; Michael’s a former Broadway chorus boy who has returned home from New York.
The transparent secrets and unhappy histories are all that holds this telefilm-like narrative together; it’s largely paint-by-numbers, and even when the dots are connected into a complete image, there’s not much there.
But oh, how Hagen and Pierce connect those dots. Alfieri fills the play with middling one-liners — “We’ll wake the neighbors,” Lily warns as they enter after an evening out; “It’s 9:30,” Michael responds. It’s not really very funny, but it generates a significant laugh from an appreciative audience, all because Hagen sets it up just perfectly, and Pierce’s timing is never anything but impeccable. It can work the other way around, too, with Pierce lobbing softball setups to Hagen, who hammers them home with unforced ease.