Barrington Stage Company has world-premiered nine, yes nine, of Mark St. Germain‘s plays, and the most recent is Dancing Lessons, on stage now. I really like his plays–Ruth, Freud’s Last Session, et al–for their old fashioned storytelling and well-developed characters. No surprises, but emotionally-clean, good theater.
Dancing Lessons is no exception, with its exploration of the tentative communications between a man with Asperger’s Syndrome and a woman whose Broadway dancing career is over when she is hit by a cab and unable to heal from the accident.
Again there are no surprises plot-wise. Even the sharp-edges of Asperger’s are worn off if you’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which has been turned into a musical, now on stage in London, or the hilarious Rosie Project, an offbeat romance written from the point of view of the male ‘hero’ who happens to have Asperger’s. Why is it that the men are the ones with Asperger’s?
Regardless, the play has a crackling pace, with both broad and subtle humor, but also moments when the whole audience was holding its breath. Our male hero has come to the dancer, who lives in the same Manhattan building, for dance lessons before a formal attire event he will attend. The kicker is he doesn’t like to be touched. The 10 or so minutes when they first shake hands to the very tender and revealing lovemaking is some of the most remarkable theater I’ve seen in ages.
And when the dancer’s leg brace comes off and the man’s posture straightens up, their Fred-and-Ginger moment is cathartic for the whole audience. It’s an interlude that has to end, however, as the characters return to their reality.
Yes, the play is about damaged people, physically and psychically. But it’s also about those blessed moments of love and grace, moments to cherish on stage, in books, and hopefully, in real life.