Mark St. Germain Asks: Do We Have the Strength to Change?
by Beau McGlasson
Dance is pure human expression. It’s the carefree wildness of a club at 1 A.M., the controlled passion of tango. You can dance on your own to Robyn or tangle yourself in your lover’s arms. Dancing expresses frustration or liberation.
“Dancing Lessons,” the hilarious play by Mark St. Germain at Center REP, poignantly examines two people—a dancer who has injured her leg and a man who is trapped by Asberger’s—both stuck in time, fearing their futures. Can the magic of dance set them free?
Senga (whip-sharp Sharon Rietkerk) and Ever (lovable Craig Marker), neighbors in Manhattan apartments, have never met. Their lives collide when Ever knocks on her door to offer Senga an insane amount of money for a quick dance lesson to prepare for an awards dinner.
Senga and Ever feel alone, anxiously terrified of exposing themselves. Senga is suffering a potentially career-ending injury. If the dance world finds out about her injury, she will be finished.
Ever, a climate scientist, fears all social interactions. His Asberger’s makes him feel uncomfortable and clumsy. To compensate, he sees life as transactional—just wins and losses. By reducing social encounters to transactions, he can win with logic, rather than expose his emotional insecurities.
St. Germain’s probing wit shines through in the interweaving of Ever and Senga’s dance lessons with Ever’s lectures on the looming dangers of climate change. The juxtaposition of dance and climate change demands action. They cry out for change, individually and globally.
As a dancer, Senga constantly struggles with life’s highs and lows: no one is crowned right or wrong. Instead, in dance, she expresses and lives in the struggle, constantly testing her dedication and skill.
The two grow close during the lessons, understanding one another slowly through twitty jokes that lower their defenses. Both feel injured and somehow less because they are not “perfect.”
At one point, Senga accuses Ever of making a joke at her expense. When Ever retorts, “Why would I make jokes when I don’t understand them?” Senga starts to re-evaluate their budding romance. Ever puts himself, honestly, on display in his own awkward and uncomfortable way. If Ever can be so genuine, can she lower her wall of sarcasm and jokes?
When a student asks Ever if he thinks people can change in time to save the Earth, he admits that change will be painful, scary. But Ever and Senga’s growing intimacy gives us hope that change is inevitable.
Finally, “Dancing Lessons” shows that we crave acceptance and love. St. Germain shows that sticking to old ways can be more painful than change. It’s a deeply personal example of how change affects the world.
“Dancing Lessons” by Mark St. Germain, directed by Joy Carlin, by Center REPertory Company, at Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California, through Saturday, November 17, 2018. Info: centerrep.org
Cast: Sharon Rietkerk and Craig Marker.