Monday, March 09, 2020

Teen Angst on display in DANCE NATION @ Dobama

Clare Barron, one of the new superstars of contemporary theater, who has been called an “insanely talented playwright,” was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and Obie Award for “DANCE NATION,” now on stage at Dobama.

The Pulitzer committee wrote that, “DANCE NATION” is "A refreshingly unorthodox play that conveys the joy and abandon of dancing, while addressing the changes to body and mind of its preteen characters as they peer over the precipice toward adulthood." 

 “As Dance Teacher Pat informs his young charges, the competition season will afford them the opportunity to see a whole world beyond their hometown of Liverpool, Indiana. They’ll venture to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Akron, Ohio; and, if they keep winning, the grand finale, a competition known as the Boogie Down Grand Prix, in Tampa Bay, Florida.”  

The young, naïve, small-town dreamers, fall for his line and quickly build anticipation of the type of experience of happy ever-after fairy tales and Disney movie princesses.

Don’t expect to see a polished troupe of trained dancers executing spectacularly choreographed routines.  The playwright’s directions clearly indicate that adult actors, with limited dance training, should play the adolescent characters, who have frank discussions about sex and puberty that inadvertently reveal just how much they still don’t know.  They freely use words like “pussy” and “circumcision,” taunt and fake-praise each other, and display jealousy, as they probe their hopes and dreams.

The Dobama production, under the adept direction of Shannon Sindelar, is well-conceived.  Performed without intermission, the play is nicely paced.

In choosing the cast, the director, according to the information she shared in a pre-curtain discussion, stressed acting over dance skills.  Attention was made to insure age, race and physical variety.

Performing as a unit, the cast (Sidney Edwards, Avani Hamilton, Calista Zajac, Anne McEvoy, Carolyn Demanelis, Delee Cooper, Corlesia Smith [who came into the cast shortly before opening as replacement for the injured Mariama Whyte], Wesley Allen and Tom Woodward) is excellent.  Each develops a clear and identifiable realistic character, with flaws and angst.

The technical aspects of the show are well conceived, with Cameron Caley Michalak’s dance bar-centered jungle gym back-wall set allowing for development of interesting stage pictures.  

Capsule judgement:   Though the Dobama production is well conceived, the language, over-wrought angst and dramatic structure render it probably not a play for everyone.  It’s worth going to observe the talented cast.

“DANCE NATION,” runs through March 29, 2020 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama:  The Cleveland premiere of THE OTHER PLACE.  Juliana is a brilliant drug-company scientist. She is giving a speech.  Through it all she constantly refers to "the other place", a cottage on Cape Cod that the family once owned, and a place where Juliana feels she may reunite with her missing daughter and find some peace of mind.  (April 24-May 24-2020).