Best Foot Forward
By Darcie J. Flansburg
In Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, Lily Harrison gets more than dance lessons from instructor Michael Minetti. Though dance lessons are the name of the game, the duo also gains a close kinship and they both come to better understand themselves and their worlds through their weekly interactions.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is not only a touching play, but also a pertinent play for the Inland Empire. And the Rialto Community Players’ production portrayed the charming story with engaging and humorous probity.
Though I can be easily moved to tears by what is performed on stage, I am not a laugh-out-loud audience member. But this play had me both laughing and crying, as well as being moved by something much deeper.
In the play, Lily Harrison (Deborah W. McFatter), an elderly widow, is getting personal dance lessons at her home from the Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks company. Minetti (Christopher Diehl) is Lily’s gay instructor with foot-in-mouth syndrome. The two get off to a rough start, but eventually overcome each others’ lying and arguing to become fast friends.
McFatter is a regular actress in the Inland Empire theater community and there is good reason that she is often cast in local productions; she is a lovely and brilliant actress. Her portrayal of Lily was heart-warming and liberating; she presented every elderly woman stereotype with lovely sensitivity, then quickly and poignantly revealed the logic behind her ways.
McFatter is always a joy to see and this play was no exception.
Diehl played Minetti to a tee. He was infuriating, clever and emotionally deft. Deihl’s Michael was the perfect foil to McFatter’s Lily; opposing yet loving, hard yet soft.
The mark of a strong realism play is when the characters not only reveal themselves to each other in a very personal way, but also in how they reveal themselves to the audience. McFatter’s Lily showed the audience how lonely and scary it can be to be an elderly widow. And Diehl’s Michael showed how lonely and frustrating it can be to be gay in the South. Both presented humorous and insightful performances that not only engaged the audience, but made them think.
McFatter and Deihl also reprised their roles for this production, which allowed them to get even deeper into the characters’ intentions. It was also very clear why they were cast the first time. The two actors are naturals and the realism of their actions and interactions made the play that much more honest and therefore enjoyable.
Sandy Courtney and Kerry Jones’ set design was also stunning. The set added to the realism of the characters and the voyeuristic feeling of the audience. The window center stage was regularly referred to throughout the play and the designers, including lighting designer Val Hanson, did an excellent job creating the ambience in the high rise building.
Though the plot may seem simple or cliché, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks offers moments of clarity and insight that is furthered by RCP Director Jeff Richards’ vision and McFatter and Diehl’s performances; a profoundly enchanting theatre experience.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks at Rialto Community Players theatre, 150 E. San Bernardino Ave., Rialto, (909) 873-8514; www.rialtocommunityplayers.org. Thru Oct. 3 with 2PM and 8PM shows. General admission is $15, $12 for students w/ID, seniors.