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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: CenterREP’s “Dancing Lessons” Offers Audiences both Hilarious and Heartwarming Discoveries

Oct 26, 2018
by Jan Miller
“Can people change?” Perhaps this is the question posed, and can be taken away in Center REPertory Company’s tender-hearted, info-filled romantic comedy “Dancing Lessons,” currently playing through November 17 at the Lesher Theatre (1601 Civic Drive) in downtown Walnut Creek, CA.

The answer to that question is complicated, at least if one goes by the data as presented by Ever (portrayed by brilliant performer Craig Marker), a geo-scientist who also has Asperger's syndrome. But on a different level — specifically between himself and a neighbor, an injured dancer living in denial — change may not only be possible, but required in this cute play that arrives just in time for the beginning of the holiday season.

The dancer taking center stage, Senga Quinn (played by the eloquent Sharon Rietkerk), is holed up in her apartment with a serious leg injury that threatens her career. When neighbor Ever Montgomery, a professor with a condition that is fearful of touch, asks for a dancing lesson so he can deal with social intimacy (handshaking, hugs, dancing) at an upcoming awards banquet, a relationship slowly develops that has both of them stepping out of their comfort zones.

Wanting a dance lesson, but not being open to touching can make things awkward. Odd perhaps, yet at the same time very funny. But the extraordinary and sometimes painful effort Ever is willing to endure to try to fit in a world of “neuro-typicals” is endearing.

For those who don’t have such highly sensitized “touch” issues, not to worry. This, and many aspects of Asperger’s and autism in general, is well-explained — perhaps ‘over explained’ — early in the play.

During the course of the play the continuing explanation of Asperger’s actually turns it into a lecture – but in a good way. The audience doesn’t get lost in the world of this condition. Instead, audience members are fascinated.

Oh, great, a speech about autism! Not to worry. Once the relationship of Ever and Senga kicks in, which eventually occurs with some very humorous moments, both learn to break out of their shells and trust each other.

When the audience first meets Senga holed up in her West Side Manhattan apartment she is angry, depressed and living with unrealistic expectations of her return to the dance world, given a medical condition that she has that makes having an operation a life-threatening risk.

Ever is the ultimate data-driven guy who is incapable of dishonesty and reading basic emotional signals.

As the play proceeds, he teaches her to face reality. She teaches him imagination.

As Senga says during a conversation with Ever, people attend live theater because they “feel other people’s emotions, see the world like they do.” In saying this, she could easily be talking about the play in which she appears.

Sharon Rietkerk as Senga is a charmer as she gradually transforms, going from isolated depressive to a woman with humor, warmth and perspective — and in one scene, she dances like a dream.

Craig Marker as Ever is terrific as he brings a believability to his character’s contrasting characteristics of strength, brilliance and extreme vulnerability.

Watching Ever and Senga, the audience comes to admire this pair, and a realization comes to the forefront: If we’d only be more open to connecting with others, we’d could very well be pleasantly surprised at what we might discover.

Director Joy Carlin molds the two characters as they slowly get to know and trust each other. In one sequence where the dancer encourages him to shake hands, the sequence is both hilarious and spellbinding. This is, after all, something he has been unable to do without sensory overload, and watching the pair work out the difficulties brings great heart and humanity to the simplest of actions.

It is the complex human elements of the story that drove Artistic Director Michael Butler to select “Dancing Lessons” for CenterREP’s current season. “Dancing Lessons” is totally absorbing, from its brilliantly conceived story to its first rate acting. Even the set design (by Kent Dorsey) adds to the depth of the story.

For tickets or more information please phone (925) 943-7469 or visit www.CenterREP.org.

* * * * *

Photo caption: (Left) Sharon Rietkerk and (right) Craig Marker are the featured. actors in "Dancing Lessons."


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