Rie Lee and Kevin McNamara became fast friends working on the Curtain Call production of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” For the two characters they portray in Richard Alfieri’s 2001 play, however, it takes a while longer.
“There’s only two people on stage, so if you don’t trust one another you’re in deep trouble,” said Lee, who plays Lily, a single and lonely woman past her prime who hires a younger middle-aged man to give her ballroom dance lessons. “You have to come through for each other. The fact that it’s a two-character play is very demanding, but the payoff is so worth it.”
The play, directed by Steve Fletcher, opens Friday and runs through Aug. 16.
“I really liked the fact that it was a two-person play, and Rie’s been great to work with,” said McNamara, who plays Michael, the dance instructor. “There’s a lot of dialogue, and you not only have to remember that, you have to remember to feed your partner the right cues and vice versa. It’s a real challenge, but it’s a lot of fun.”
’Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, through Aug. 16
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 877-7529
“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” didn’t even last that long on Broadway, opening in October 2003, with Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill sharing the stage, and closing in November. It has, however, gathered some serious momentum in regional theaters around the country.
“The basic premise of the show is that this woman, who is very lonely and doesn’t mix well with people, hires a dance instructor to come into her apartment, where she feels safe, and pretends that she wants to learn how to dance,” said Lee. “These two start out by lying to each other about themselves, and there are some temper flare-ups and some touching moments. You learn more about their background and their secrets over the course of the play, and eventually they become dear friends.”
“My character is in his 40s, a little past his prime, and as he develops a relationship with this woman, the secrets of both their pasts come out,” said McNamara. “You don’t need to know anything about ballroom dancing. That’s only the premise for the play. The real story is their relationship and how it develops. It’s a great play.”
The play consists of six scenes, all of them in Lily’s apartment.
“In each scene, I’m teaching Lily a new dance,” said McNamara. “We don’t really do that much dancing. It’s more about the conversation we’re having, and when the actual dancing starts we kind of fade out and that ends each scene.”
McNamara is well-prepared for the role. He actually spent a few years working as an instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Albany.
“My acting friends who knew I used to teach ballroom dancing were all calling me telling me I had to try out for this part,” said McNamara, who recently played E.K.Hornbeck, the cynical reporter, in the Albany Civic Theater production of “Inherit the Wind.”
“Actually, I think that helped me get the role.”
Coincidentally, Lee also spent some time working at Arthur Murray, although she says McNamara is a much better dancer than she is.
“Kevin taught for many years; I only did it briefly,” she said. “But I love the dancing and I wish there were more of it.”
Lee grew up in Albany and now lives in North Chatham. While she never seriously got into acting until her four children were old enough to be out of the house, she does have some history of performing in the family, including a distant connection to British actor Peter O’Toole.
“My grandmother’s maiden name was O’Toole, and the story goes that we’re related to him, maybe five or six generations removed,” said Lee. “But I also had an aunt who was a snake charmer on Broadway. We’ve had some people in this family that were real cuckoos. but I guess performing was always in my blood. Then, once you get the bug, you can’t stop.”
Lee has become one of the most sought-after character actors in the local theater community over the past two decades, having also worked at Albany Civic Theater and the Schenectady Civic Playhouse as well as building a considerable résumé at Curtain Call. Her most recent gig was as Nurse Ratchett in the Classic Theater Guild’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
About the only thing that makes Lee a little uncomfortable about acting is that sometimes, you have to play a character who is older. That’s the case in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” where her characters initially tells Michael that she is 68 and later in the play admits to being 72.
“It’s a lovely role, but I know I’m going to have friends in the audience saying, ‘Rie’s not in her 60s is she, and she can’t be 72?’ That’s the only part that bothers me,” she said, poking a little fun at herself. “I’m going to have to tell them I’m playing older.”
McNamara is making his Curtain Call debut. Along with his work at Albany Civic Theater, he played Bill Sikes last season in the Schenectady Light Opera Company production of “Oliver.” When his gig at Curtain Call is complete, McNamara will begin preparing for a new post, that as assistant director for the Circle Theatre Players’ production of “The Good Doctor” in Averill Park.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but I think I’d like to get to the other side and try directing,” he said. “Starting off as an assistant will give me a taste of it, and obviously my experience as an actor will help. I’m looking forward to it.”