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Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" is the kind of by-the-numbers playwriting that strains credibility with almost every step. This two-hander tells of Lily Harrison, living out her final years in a Florida retirement community and so desperate for companionship she calls a ballroom dance school for a private instructor. Arriving at her apartment is Michael Minetti, a former chorus boy wearing his sexual orientation on his sleeve and unable to control either his potty mouth or violent temper, which he blames on his Italian heritage.

After his first frightening outburst of anger, Lily attempts to phone the school and fire him; it's the script's first and last believable moment. Michael dissuades her, with an obvious lie about a sick wife. From then on, through a series of dance lessons, the two become fast friends -- with lots of fussing, fighting, and gag lines -- and finally soul mates, pouring out one sad personal revelation after another. Playwright Richard Alfieri, who has written successfully for TV, gives us a checklist of movie-of-the-week calamities, including a botched abortion, abusive mates, Alzheimer's, worry about AIDS, and, of course, cancer.

Under Arthur Allan Seidelman's direction, the production -- from Roy Christopher's creamy-colored set to the cheery scene-break music -- tries even harder than Alfieri to envelop these mordant themes in a feel-good aura.

Polly Bergen, a charmingly composed presence, is simply too soft-edged to make dramatic sense of the apparently neurotic, unhappy Lily. But she, at least, is easy to watch. The same cannot be said of Mark Hamill, who, except for some quiet moments toward the end, appears to be desperately auditioning to replace Chris Kattan on "Saturday Night Live." Nevertheless, despite its ineptitudes, I suspect "Six Dance Lessons" will be a popular script for theatres everywhere, tempting local divas with its many costume changes and contrived smiles-through-tears.

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