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TLT show just wants to be loved

"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" is a very cute play

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS: Cute! Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

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There are words we use all the time without ever contemplating definitions, and one of those words is cute. When a woman (cute seems to be a predominantly feminine word) describes a movie as cute, you know it's a comedy, most likely a romantic comedy. If it makes her laugh out loud, she'll probably characterize it as hilarious. If, however, it elicits only chuckles or smiles, that movie is said to be cute. If you look up the word cute in a dictionary, you'll find it means either smart-alecky, youthfully pretty, or (I quote Merriam-Webster) "obviously straining for effect." Only one of those definitions is an unrestrained compliment.

For better and worse, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks at Tacoma Little Theatre is a very cute play. For some in our Sunday matinée audience, it was LOL funny. Mostly, though, patrons appeared to be charmed but not laughing, and they grumbled through its minutes-long scene changes. The jokes in Richard Alfieri's script are unremarkable, so it falls on the actors to flesh out his characters instead. I hate to be uncharitable about performances other people love - I swear to you, I do - but I wasn't persuaded.

As with most situation comedies, the synopsis is brief. A depressed widow, Lily, hires an irritable man, Michael, to teach her dance steps and, more importantly, keep her company. They get to know each other over six weeks and grow yada yada. The point is to introduce two attractive, amusing characters and convince the audience to fall in love with them. In that goal Six Dance Lessons largely succeeds, but it does so by taking advantage of a time-honored theatrical cheat: it casts actors we already know and like.

See, real-life-married actors Micheal (sic) O'Hara and Sharry (sic) O'Hare are ubiquitous in Tacoma theater circles. We might even say they're beloved. And just as Tom Hanks or Sandra Bullock are often cast as characters who have unpleasant qualities as implicit reassurance that they'll be lovable by the end credits, TLT and director Frank Kohel bank on our fondness for two genuinely charming performers. The trouble is, I live in Olympia, so I'd never actually seen them work together before. That means I go in with none of their meta-textual history. Instead, what I heard was O'Hare launching into each act with a lovely South Carolinian drawl, only to lapse quickly into her Texas accent from Always, Patsy Cline. For most of Act I, O'Hara announced more than acted his lines. Their performances hailed from pre-Method Broadway. If that's your cup of tea, Gentle Reader, make no mistake, these two have it down pat. As for me, I never felt I was meeting real people, though we do get actors with loads of charisma and - not for nothing! - irreproachable dancing ability. And how cute is that?


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