What would you do if you found yourself hip to hip with someone you’re pretty sure is a bigot?
That’s the general premise of the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre’s production of the Richard Alfieri comedy “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” Directed and choreographed by Ron Celona, CV Rep’s artistic director, the play explores what happens when the wife of a Southern Baptist minister hires a gay dance instructor.
The twosome, portrayed by Bobbi Stamm and Sean Galuszka, dances well together but starts off on the wrong foot as personalities and perceptions clash. Lily Harrison immediately identifies Michael Minetti as a man with a chip on his shoulder and lacking the social graces she’s accustomed to, evidenced by his frequent cursing and pointedly laser-sharp criticism.
“You hate too easily,” Lily says at one point.
What she learns as they swing, tango, waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha and boogie across her living room floor is that Michael the firebrand has experienced intolerance and cruel romantic disappointments as a gay man that are unlike any she’s known. “If the world belongs to anyone, it belongs to straight white people,” he remarks.
Michael’s attitude may be all-too-familiar to LGBT audience members. However, he shares some encounters with former boyfriends and family members that many might consider heart-wrenching, though their impact on his life isn’t fully conveyed on stage. This could be due to the incredible challenge of having to convincingly evoke real emotion in a scene primarily played for laughs. Galuszka delivered the humorous and racy lines well, but there were few surprises from his character.
Stamm’s character turned out to be the more surprising of the two. It’s not long after Lily begins dancing with Michael that she becomes more comfortable with his frank observations. She reveals that she’s more than a stereotypical Southern lady and how deception can be useful for a mature woman or someone on the fringe of society.
Still, like Galuszka, Stamm is more convincing with humor than with dramatic moments. Nailing a South Carolina accent, she drew big laughs from the audience when she revealed Lily’s theory on appearing younger: “If you say your real age out loud, your face hears you.”
While the play is billed as a comedy, there are many poignant and serious moments that come across as missed opportunities when their emotional punch doesn’t register. Each could help the audience relate to the characters and buy into a true friendship quickly developing during six dance lessons. Fortunately, Alfieri’s funny moments are also poignant and transformative, and when fully developed, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” shines in these moments.
If You Go
What: “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 6, 7, 8 and 9; 2 p.m. Feb. 10
Where: The Atrium, 69-930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA
Info: (760) 296-2966 or www.cvrep.org