6 Dance Lessons/6 Weeks Returns From New ‘ArtBuzz Theatrics’ Company

Larry Buzzeo and Lory Reyes in the new ArtBuzz Theatrics’ production of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks / Photos by Magnus Stark

By Aaron Krause

Since its Los Angeles premiere and Broadway opening, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks has undergone translations into 14 languages and traversed the globe with productions in 24 countries. In fact, it is one of the most produced plays in the world.

These facts are not surprising as can be seen in ArtBuzz Theatrics’ production in Fort Lauderdale.

Ultimately, Richard Alfieri’s touching, well-written, and well-structured comedy-drama reminds us that, despite our differences, we humans share at least one thing in common. Specifically, each of us is a fellow passenger through the ride we call life. We endure its bumps and roadblocks the best we can, bask in joy during happy moments, and mourn during sad times. Hopefully, we connect with our fellow human beings, because we are more alike than different.

Doubtless, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’s final scene touches the heart. We watch as Michael Minetti, a gay dance instructor, gently guides a slow-moving, terminally ill Lily Harrison, the widow of a Southern Baptist Minister, to her chair in her home. But as the sun sets literally (on the horizon) and figuratively (her time on Earth is ending) the pair refuse to remain seated in sorrow. Instead, Minetti gently and happily guides Harrison through at least one last dance while watching the sunset. Of course, it is a powerful scene.

Unquestionably, it is moving in the relatively new company ArtBuzz Theatrics’ compelling professional production of Alferi’s two-hander. The mounting, which runs through July 3, features impressively realistic, nuanced, and multi-faceted performances from South Florida theater veteran Larry Buzzeo and stage veteran Lory Reyes.

The pair play Minetti and Harrison, respectively, at the intimate Empire Stage in Ft. Lauderdale. Holly Budney and Alan Nash co-direct sensitively.

The venue features just three rows of seating facing the stage and two additional rows, one on either side facing sideways. In such a tiny theater, emotions come across stronger than they would in a large auditorium. Truly, we feel as though we are in the same room with the characters.

For a reason that the playwright never makes clear, Harrison, who lives in a present-day St. Petersburg condo overlooking the beach, has hired Minetti to give her private dancing lessons. As Minetti guides Harrison through the swing, tango, waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, and contemporary dance, the pair alternately aggravate and uplift each other.

Unfortunately, some may say that Harrison and Minetti do not belong in the same room. After all, she is a Southern Baptist, and a stereotype paints them as intolerant of minority groups, including gay people.

However, without preaching, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks encourages us to remain open minded and welcoming to people who may be different from us. And the play reminds us to savor every moment; you never know when life will end.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is not a groundbreaking piece. Indeed, one hears echoes of, for instance, Driving Miss Daisy. That comedy-drama follows the relationship of an elderly white Jewish woman and her Black chauffer from 1948 to 1973. Over time, the odd couple come to not only tolerate but grow fond of each other.

While Alfieri’s play does not cover nearly as much time, it is also about two people with seemingly little in common who gradually grow fond of each other.

Of course, we are living during a time in which humanity is divided like few times before. Therefore, we need a play such as this to remind us of life’s preciousness and people’s potential to get along.

While Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks tackles relevant, serious themes and offers us useful advice, it is hardly just a dark message play. There are comical, some even may say outrageous moments. They may cause us to laugh and gasp at the same time.  For instance, Harrison exclaims, “I’m wearing my fuck-me dress and I’m going to dance!”

In addition, Minetti blurts out inappropriate remarks that perhaps make us laugh uncomfortably.

Neither character is a saint; they lie and yell, for example. And Harrison, a teacher for 30 years, seems surprisingly out of touch when she refers to Minetti’s “being in the cupboard.” Of course, the proper phrase is “in the closet.”

However, in the end, both characters are imperfect human beings. Actually, they may remind you of someone you know, or even yourself.

These performers are pros, and it shows. Reyes, unrecognizable as Harrison, stares at her dance instructor with a stern face that might call to mind a no-nonsense teacher. Also, the performer conveys wariness as deftly as she radiates joy when she is dancing. Reyes also imbues her character with believable bitterness, charm, and compassion.

Meanwhile, Buzzeo, no stranger to over-the-top roles, nails his character’s charm. In addition, the actor captures Minetti’s sarcasm, sincerity, and larger-than-life demeanor. Buzzeo possesses a versatile voice, and he uses it to great comedic effect in the role. Also, to his credit, Buzzeo stays away from stereotype.

From a dancing perspective, the actors move gracefully to recorded music appropriate for each style of dance.

Behind the scenes, Preston Bircher’s lighting is appropriately dim at times. It creates a romantic aura as we watch dancers on TV in between scenes. Contrastingly, the lighting is bright and realistic during much of the play.

An uncredited costume designer dresses the characters in diverse clothing. They wear everything from beach clothes and bathrobes to dark, sparkling evening wear, depending on the style of dance.

The play’s sole setting is Harrison’s condo. And Nash, who is also the scenic designer, has created a detailed, tasteful, and neat set. Clearly, a person with taste and style lives here. The details include what resemble wicker chairs, artwork on the walls, a pot with flowers, and the number 1437 on the front door, to indicate the floor. A shortcoming within the set is that, if you look outside, it does not appear as though Harrison lives on such a high floor. But this is just one quibble with an otherwise impressive production. It originally played the Levis JCC Sandler Center in Boca Raton by The West Boca Theatre Company.

At its core, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is a healing play about lonely characters revealing secrets and recovering from past emotional scar tissue. Undoubtedly, connection and companionship act like medicine for these characters’ emotional well-being.

True, it is not clear why Harrison signed up for dance lessons.

Maybe she just needed a friend.

Don’t we all?

ArtBuzz Theatrics’ production of Richard Alfieri’s comic drama Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks runs through July 2 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Ft. Lauderdale. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30. For more information, go to www.empirestage.com or call (954) 678-1496.

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