Encore Michigan

‘Dancing’ from Vinogradov premieres at Planet Ant

Review December 09, 2019 David Kiley

HAMTRAMCK, Mich.–Dancing. All relationships are a dance, aren’t they? Adjusting grips. Touching. Standing apart. Slowing down. Speeding up. Taking a break, while one partner remains on the dance floor. Sharing. Withholding.

That is the crux of Maxim Vinogradov’s new play, Dancing, premiering this month here at Planet Ant. The play’s title is given more literalness by the fact that one of the two characters, known to us as “S,” (Rashi Sarwar) is an actual ballet dancer in the story.

The play opens when “J” (Cookie Isenberg) enters a dodgy hotel room, probably in a single-room-occupancy (SRO), somewhere in Pennsylvania, and realizes that “S” is under the chair/loveseat, covered in sheets. “S” crawls out, and the two begin a conversation and mind probe trying to figure one another out. It’s a dance, the beginning of a dance. It is obvious from the start that neither is being honest with one another about key facts, such as their respective ages. And neither will tell one another their names. The room is very cheap because there is no bed. The bathroom is in the hall, and well…the room was the scene of a recent killing, which is why “S’ got the room so cheaply.

Dancing is in three acts. And truthfully, at the end of the first act, you could be asking yourself why you are watching these two characters? In their late teens, these two girls speak in a lot of vapid fragments. At the same time, though, you know that with two acts to go, this first act will make more sense as the play rolls forward. And it does.

Act Two finds the two characters together again at a point in the future, re-united and re-connected. The dialogue and the story go deeper, and the audience is drawn in to what has been happening, reflecting on the first act. The third act has the two in yet another context, time and place, leading to the denouement. There is a truth behind these characters that washes over the audience, and many should have a clue before Act Three. But no spoilers here.

Ms. Sarwar is exceptional as “S.” She is extremely animated, both physically and vocally, and does an excellent job of using her striking face to communicate and express the character’s pain and longing, all while keeping a sense of humor provided by Vinogradov’s script close at hand. Cookie Isenberg plays “J”. Ms. Isenberg is a junior in high school, and displays some real chops. A few years younger than Ms. Sarwar, it is a challenge for her at times to sell that she is 20 or 21 by the end of the story, as her features and persona seem more 16 than 20. But she is a fine and promising actress, and manages to get there on the whole for this intimate play.

Dancing is directed ably by Kaitlyn Valor Bourque. Set design by Jared Scott Morin is thoughtful, if spare, but nicely captures the minimalist surroundings these two young women find themselves in with little money between them. Mike Brown designed lights and sound.

Vinogradov says he was somewhat influenced in this story by stories such as “Before Trilogy” and “Two For The Road.” Dancing is a strong two-hander play, exploring the GPS directions of an important relationship between two young people deprived of emotional warmth at home when they were forming their love and life patterns as children and adolescents.

But even when lacking the conventional sustenance, like many young people in the same predicament, they make do. “J” writes. She writes and she writes and she writes. And the bits from her pen that Vinogradov gives us to hear are heartfelt and literate. And in a particularly inspired stroke, “J” gives “S” the name “Starscream” early in the story as a substitute name for the one she won’t reveal.

It’s elements of the story like this that make beautiful sense as the play reveals itself and opens up like a bottle of red wine.

The full title of the play is “Dancing: A Life Story In Three Acts.” Even the title takes time to make sense til the end of the story. And when it does, you’ll find yourself thinking about these two characters long after the curtain closes.

Week of 9/25/2023

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