Scripter Richard Alfieri’s overly structured, simplistic two-hander “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” peruses the barren plain of loneliness as two disparate, solitary souls struggle to achieve mutual solace. With scarce assistance from helmer Arthur Allan Seidelman, Alfieri relentlessly states and restates his tidy little theme with disregard for deep insight or thematic evolution. Mitigating matters to some degree are the heartfelt perfs of Jason Graae and Constance Towers, making themselves at home in Eric J. Larson’s sumptuous Florida seaside condo setting.
The action is played out with relentless precision over the course of six weekly private dance lessons, wherein embittered but vulgarly exuberant gay middle-aged former chorus boy Michael Minetti (Graae) goes mano a mano with waspishly uptight Lily Harrison (Towers), an elderly former school teacher and the widow of a Baptist minister. Included in each scene is the requisite complaining phone call from downstairs neighbor Ida, giving Lily an opportunity to get off a colorful one-liner of her own.
Although each lesson concentrates on a different ballroom dance (swing, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha and contemporary), the Michael/Lily skirmishes always begin with a personality clash, usually involving a self-protective lie. This is followed by a fragile reconciliation, ending with a brief terpsichorean display of the featured dance, staged with hyper-ballroom reality by Kay Cole.
This basic structure of meet, argue, resolve and dance is rendered theatrically comatose after five repetitions. And the emotionally manipulative play-ending “Bonus Lesson” is telegraphed from practically the opening scene.
Seidelman and Cole provide some visual and emotional variation but are ultimately defeated by this legiter’s inherent blandness. Elevating the proceedings, however, are the sincere efforts of Graae’s Michael and Towers’ Lily to truly connect with one another.
Graae is quite believable as the emotionally fragile, militantly self-protective man who is prone to suspect gay-bashing in anyone who isn’t like him. He makes viable Michael’s amalgam of insensitive vulgarity and growing empathetic concern for this woman who so desperately needs his friendship.
Towers invests Lily with an endearing gentility and reticence that makes her emotional “coming out” in order to deal with Michael on his level the most interesting aspect of the production. The layers of emotional guardedness appear to slowly peel away as she entrusts this man with the long-repressed, tragedy-filled memories of her past.
Complementing proceedings are the character-perfect costumes of Helen Butler and the lively sounds of Phil Allen.