WHY THEY INVENTED DANCING
nytheatre.com review by Tim Cusack
In Private Lives Noel Coward
famously remarks on the potency of pop music. Mikhael Garver’s
production of Why They Invented Dancing, which she and James
Estabrook have created from various texts by Charles Mee, exploits the
instant familiarity most of her audience will have with the songs
performed by Natalie (Elaine Robinson), backed up by a three-piece
combo, The Tubbs. In contrast to the simple scenarios of love and
romance melodized in the songs she sings, the relationships among the
characters on stage quickly become dizzily complicated, as love
triangles metastasize into quadrangles, pentagons, and hexagons. At the
core of the story is one family: Tessa (Kate McDermott); her parents,
Maria (Danica Ivancevic) and Frank (Jason Huysman); her brother,
Jonathan (David B. Causey); and their messy affectional entanglements.
August 15, 2003
Tessa agrees to translate some Italian inscriptions for James (John Zinn). They start a sort-of relationship, but Tessa can’t resist a fling with a charming Frenchman, Francois (Jason Vizza), not knowing that he’s her mother’s younger lover. Of course her mother has to take a lover since Tessa’s father is involved with another man, Edmund (James Estabrook). Meanwhile, Maria announces Jonathan’s engagement to his girlfriend Ariel (Jenna Hastings) without consulting either of them. There’s not enough room here to map every crag and gully of these liaisons, but what movingly emerges is the eternal human need for someone to love, despite our contemporary mistrust of anything that might tie us down too long in any one spot.
As if to illustrate this point, Edith (Julie Mitre) and Harold (Phil Carlin) sit off to one side, never moving from their park bench. As they bicker, make up, and get by on their little piece of territory, we see the end results of a decades-long relationship. (Perhaps they are the grandparents the other characters keep referring to, or Tessa and James’s future.) The cast is uneven (Ivancevic, Vizza, Mitre, and Carlin were my favorites), and one wishes that Robinson had a better sense of pitch, but ultimately the real star is Mee’s text. He’s the closest thing we have to a Chekhov, and, with unfailing precision, his language expresses something painfully true about the double bind of a longing for independence and the fear of being alone. Why did they invent dancing? So they could feel like they could live. And for a brief time, so do we.