By Mark St. Germain. A Naked Goddess Productions presentation. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, October 4. Continues to October 20
When two seemingly opposite people end up having to spend time together in an unusual situation, you have the basis for a romantic comedy. Dancing Lessons intends to give this genre quirky flair. But while this production has some sweet moments, the affection between the two characters isn’t quite believable and there a few too many loose ends in the story to make it truly satisfying.
The story introduces us to Senga, a dancer who has suffered a possible career-ending injury and spends her days cooped up in her apartment wallowing in self-pity. Enter her neighbour Ever Montgomery, a university professor with Asperger syndrome, eager to take a dance lesson so he can dance at an upcoming awards ceremony where he’s being honoured.
Asperger makes social interaction difficult for Montgomery, and in parallel, Senga’s many personal issues make it difficult for her to interact socially as well. While reluctant, Senga agrees to teach Montgomery to dance, and through this newfound relationship they begin to help each other understand themselves.
While charming at times, the play unfortunately suffers from trying to incorporate too many subplots and ideas, without being able to follow through on most. The most obvious example of this is Senga’s ongoing search for medical treatment for her injury, which eventually seems to be forgotten about. Part of the reason is because it’s overshadowed by her other personal issues midway through—which again aren’t really tied up in the end.
There’s also an ongoing thread about climate change and its impending doom, frequently discussed in Montgomery’s university lectures scenes. The theme seems rather out of place as it’s not tied to the main story, and is eventually tossed aside as well.
Andrew Coghlan doesis strong in the role of Montgomery, convincingly showing his character’s overly energetic childlike wonder mixed with awkward social interaction. Despite this, you can see Coghlan’s character stepping out of his comfort zone to try to show tenderness and affection towards Senga.
Less successful is Sandra Medeiros as Senga, who comes off as so abrasive and unlikable that when her character starts to show vulnerability it’s hard to feel empathy towards her. There’s also not enough chemistry between Coghlan and Medeiros for the play to really make sense, which isn’t necessarily their fault, given Mark St. Germain’s script. Intimate moments between the two seem forced—and at one point extremely uncomfortable and sudden.
Also taking away from the believability of the show is how Senga is supposed to be a successful dancer, having performed with the renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company and on Broadway. While she has a nice presence on-stage, Medeiros doesn’t exude the poise and grace you would expect of her character. Director Sarah Rodgers doesn’t do Medeiros any favours by projecting a montage video of Medeiros dancing onto a large screen at one point.
Despite the show’s weaknesses, Medeiros and Coghlan do share some charming moments together, including a nice dance near the end, choreographed by Melissa Sciarretta. And I appreciate the show’s offbeat take on rom-com, including shining a light on Asperger syndrome.