Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Larry Murray: Mark St. Germain’s newest play Dancing Lessons at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company could easily be categorized as a play that teaches us something new, and when it comes to Asperger Syndrome, it is certainly both instructive and inspirational on that subject. But that is a by-product of what has to be St. Germain’s best work to date. It is really a romantic comedy at heart, and it takes us to the verge of tears even as we are laughing delightedly at a young couple trying to figure out how to deal with each other.
Gail M. Burns: There are more and more people with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum, and what they teach us is that there is no such thing as “normal.” Everyone’s brain and body function and experience the world differently and society makes an enormous error when it tries to force humankind into any mold. Every couple faces challenges as their relationship develops because there is no other place where we are as intimately and openly ourselves.
Larry: There are only two characters in this one act play, Paige Davis (as Senga Quinn, a successful Broadway dancer) and John Cariani (Dr. Ever Montgomery – a professor of geosciences who is about to be honored for his achievements). Both were at the top of their game, but are under new stress as they tentatively come together and blow apart as the story unfolds. Because of his Asperger’s, Ever is aware that he sees the world differently than most. Yet he needs help in fitting into the normal world. He uses the term “neuro-typicals” to describe people who are not like him. He refers to himself as an “Aspy,” an abbreviated description he likes to use. What I find interesting is that Senga – who is a dancer and actually sidelined with an injury – is also searching for answers.
Gail: Both characters are facing a crisis of self. Ever is very intelligent and “high-functioning.” He has had great success in his chosen field, but is terrified of relating on a personal and physical level. Senga (her name was supposed to be Agnes but her aunt wrote it backwards on her birth certificate) has achieved success as a dancer – studying and performing with some of the top choreographers and their companies, and appearing on and off-Broadway – but she was hit by a taxi and her left leg is shattered, with seriously torn muscles and ligaments in her knee. Her only hope for any kind of recovery is surgery, which a rare allergy to anesthesia prevents, and even then she will never be able to perform at the level she did before.