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Lots of Funny Business in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” at STC

“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” by Richard Alfieri opened Saturday in Sacramento Theatre Company’s smaller Pollock Theatre.

Lily Harrison, a senior retiree living in a high rise view condo in St. Petersburg, Florida books a series of dance lessons from the Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks company. Very quickly, Lily demonstrates how uptight and rigid she has become.

Enter Michael Minetti, the young man that the dance lesson company has sent to give Lily lessons at her condo. Michael’s problem is that he is extremely poor at self-censoring and blurts out whatever he is thinking.

Naturally, Lily and Michael start off on the wrong foot (pun intended) at the first dance lesson and succeeding lessons. Not far into the first lesson, she demands that he leave – as she does for every succeeding lesson. He persists and they go on to very funny results. Indeed, most of the audience was laughing hysterically throughout the show.

Playwright Alfieri has worked in stage, screen and television both in front of the audience/camera and in most all of the creative positions off-camera and offstage. Alfieri has also won multiple major awards in nearly every entertainment field. He has created a play that is very funny while also saying a lot about ageism, intolerance and sexism. It asks the question, why is it so hard for individuals to relate to each other?

Lily Harrison is played by Becky Saunders in her debut performance at STC. She is a very experienced actor who has performed on stages throughout the country. Harrison gives a strong performance as Lily, who knows how rigid and uptight she is but doesn’t know how to break out of the shell she has built around her and express her fears and losses to another human being.

Justin Samuel Cowan as Michael Minetti and Becky Saunders as Lily Harrison

Playing opposite Harrison is Justin Samuel Cowan as Michael Minetti, the young man that exhibits biting behavior, much of which Lily finds objectionable. Cowan is at an early point in his career. He will receive his BFA in Performance at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oreg., where he will return for his final semester after the closing of this show. While Cowan is a relatively new actor, he is quite familiar with the role of Michael Minetti, having portrayed the character at SOU. His Michael is both funny and charming as he ignores Lily’s protests and marches forward.

“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” is Michele Hillen-Noufer’s first STC main season role as a director. She has over 20 years experience in professional theatre and has been with STC for seven seasons as an actor, singer, choreographer and director of the education shows. Arguably her greatest role at STC is that as the education director of the Young Professionals Conservatory that turns out so many great young actors.

Her great job of directing “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” in the difficult-shaped Pollock Theatre no less, should lead Hillen-Noufer to many other directing roles.

Assistant director to Michele Hillen-Noufer is Jodie George, a theater major with a Screen Actors Guild membership. What is interesting here is that George is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. After seeing the play, it is easy to imagine how useful that background would be in looking at character motivation in this show.

Scenic Designer Mims Mattair is another newcomer to STC who has a great deal of experience. Mattair has done set and costume design for both opera and stage. Lily Harrison’s high-end condo is the set and I am sure that many audience members had the same thought, “I would love to move in here.”

It is always fun to see how the set designer deals with the quirks of the Pollock Stage and Mattair rewards with some fun design decisions.

Lighting design by Jarrod Bodensteiner and William Myers’ sound design enhances the experience of the set.

Jessica Minnihan, while most strongly associated with STC, designs costumes for stages throughout Sacramento. She surely had fun designing the costumes for Lily and Michael, as the costumes are an essential part of the humor in this production.

STC picked a very good play for the first main season production on the Pollock Stage. There is so much humor and humanity in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” and it comes across well in this intimate space where a lot would be lost on a larger stage. Saunders and Cowan have good rapport and work well off each other in both humorous and serious moments.

Given the excitement level of the audience members leaving the theatre, it is very possible that with “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” STC has a hit on their hands.

“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” Sacramento Theatre Company

Through December 18, 2011 More information and tickets 

Note:  STC hosts a "prologue" forty five minutes before every performance giving audiences an opportunity to learn a little about the play, playwright and production.

The theatre has partnered with The Ballroom of Sacramento and will present free weekly 45 minute dance lessons every Thursday at 5pm at the theatre for six weeks. Classes begin on November 11th and will be taught by Deborah and Don Reno. The week of Thanksgiving the class will be held on TUESDAY 11/22 instead of Thursday. Call the box office at 916-443-6722 for reservations.

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