World Premiere–The Decade Dance: A relationship amidst history
WILLIAMSTON, Mich.–A lot can happen in ten years. A decade can change the course of a country and change the course of personal lives as well.
Joe Zettelmaier’s new play The Decade Dance, premiering at Williamston Theater, takes a look at both as it dances through the 1970s starting at a Kent State protest rally on May 6, 1970 and ending on the eve of the 1980s.
Along the way it visits key moments of the 1970s from civil rights issues to Nixon’s resignation to the bicentennial and the premiere of Star Wars. But it isn’t simply a sociopolitical play that explores history for history’s sake. The Decade Dance is a love story about Roger Weems and Nina Reynolds and the way they move in and out of each other’s lives over a ten-year period. While each of them face issues unique to the time—Roger is a recovering Vietnam vet and Nina faces racial prejudice in her career for being a black woman—they also go through struggles that are universal to any time period and are easy for any audience to relate to.
Tiffany Mitchenor is Nina Reynolds and she lights the character on fire. Nina is a strong woman who never backs down from a fight, and Reynolds puts in an electric performance with a commanding stage presence. Her strength in the early scenes makes her moments of vulnerability even more powerful when they came. Here was a woman who felt deeply, loved intensely and committed to ideals both political and personal.
Roger Weems is played by Mitchell Koory. It is a beautiful thing to watch his transformation throughout the play. He has his demons to defeat and the battle is real. Just as the decade changes the character of the country, so this decade changes Roger’s life and Koory manages all the subtleties of the performance. He’s likable even at his worst.
Together Koory and Mitchenor have great chemistry that starts from the moment they first burst onto the stage in each other’s arms. There is fire and tension between them and they’ve got a spark that stays lit through the entire show.
Zettelmaier gives them a lot to work with. The play is filled with humorous lines that create just the right amount of levity in scenes that are often serious and intense. “The Decade Dance” entertains throughout each scene while giving the audience plenty to invest in. This is a couple that the audience cares about and wants to see what happens to them, whether they can make things work or not.
Director Joey Albright also deserves a great deal of credit for taking this new work to the stage. He is responsible for much of the pacing that keeps the tensions high and the actors deeply invested in the action. They move across the stage, making each new configuration of the stage work for different scenes. Albright makes the most of the subtleties in this play, bringing them out without hitting the audience over the head with them.
It isn’t just the actors who make this play an entertaining evening. The running crew gets into the act, making scene changes during amusing interludes in which the crew plays with the props and dances to the music. Crew member Derek Ridge in particular gets into the spirit of the play and eventually takes his own bow after getting much applause from an appreciative audience.
The antics of the running crew between scenes helps to cover costume changes, of which there are many. Costumer Karen Kangas-Preston makes the most of the period demands with ten sets of costumes for the two leading players. Each one screams the 70s in its own way whether the fringed poncho, the pant suits or the roller disco outfits. They were well researched and each worked well for the character and the period.
“The Decade Dance” hustles its way through the 70s in a fast-paced romp that is powerful in its examination of how a relationship changes amid a tumultuous country, and two people who are tuned in to all the changes and events. It is not a history lesson, but theater that tells a compelling story and entertains along the way.