Review by Danny Gaisin
Someone searching for a recipe delineating the ingredients needed for a play about learning to dance, the Google® listings would probably list ‘Billy Elliot’; “A Chorus Line” and perhaps ‘The Full Monty” for icing. Richard Harris’ 1984 creation tells, or hints at the rationales behind a diverse group of lower class ladies & one male enrolling in a church basement tap-dance class. The motivations seem more social than terpsichorean.
Under the direction of Alex Bodnar, the ten cast members construe the stimulus or incentives behind their characters as well as portray in interactions that develop between the attendees.
Obviously, the dance sequences are critical to ‘STEPPING OUT’ but it is the thespian aspect that makes this Theatre Etobicoke effort so fascinating. The patois (courtesy of dialect coach Debbie Fishwick) is enough to send Henry Higgins into catatonia, and diminishes the effectiveness of vocal projection for most audience members; but fans of ‘Coronation Street’ or ‘The East-enders’ will grasp the pithiness and stereotypes even with the auditory difficulties. The creative choreography; especially during the supposed learning period, is a credit to Kelly Slate and helped in the interpretation by dance captain Krista Barzso is the more amazing considering the untrained ensemble began learning to dance a scant few months ago.
Bodnar has used a velvet glove and subtlety to depict and categorize the cast’s personas. The result is the audience’s subjective identification with at least one of the characters. The pivotal role is that of the teacher ‘Mavis’; and Krista Barzso presents her as someone who definitively has a personal and secreted agenda. Fortunately, Harris (& Bodnar) refrain from telegraphing same. Her collaboration with accompanist Susan Wilby’s ‘Mrs. Fraser’ character contrasts with her attitude towards her students…and theirs to her! As the lone male, Steve Mackey comes across as somewhat too nerdy, but his ‘Geoffrey’ never even hints at an alternative lifestyle; only a reticence and diffidence with social interface.
There are three outstanding representations among the ladies: – Nicole Bailey’s Maxine seems to have an innate sense of stage image. Her posture; facial expressions and timing are credible and convincing. The bit wherein she recaps doing an Ovaltine™ commercial is a paraphrase of the genre without the annoyance of being an advertisement. Some of the best dialogue bits belong to Leanne Rosteing who along with Joyce Chan add comedic moments to what otherwise would be a straight drama. Both have the delivery sense of a successful stand-up humorist. A couple of the other roles are overwritten such as Vera who is portrayed by Cathy O’Toole and Whitney Alexander’s young-ish Sylvia. Alexander’s on-stage gum-chewing and posturing help smooth out the edges, but O’Toole somehow fails to elicit sympathy for her older persona.
Like the late director Alfred Hitchcock who always appeared in on-screen cameos, Bodnar has a vignette role as the M.C. of the cast’s final performance. This afforded him (& T.E.) the opportunity to tell the audience of the upcoming productions by Theatre Etobicoke…seems one cannot escape commercials anywhere! Realistically; this was a constructive idea as getting folks away from the boob-tube or their tablets is a positive concept.
Critical suggestion: – Illuminate the piano/teacher area (stage Rt.) during early scenes!
STEPPING OUT will be staged until November 6th