“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” inspirits Buffalo

Loretta Swit and David Engel shine at Shea’s 710 Theatre


An emotional rollercoaster hit the stage in Buffalo over the weekend, chock full of arguments, lying and witty back-and-forths.

Over 300 attendees took to Shea’s 710 Theatre on Thursday for the opening performance of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” The play, which completed its Buffalo run on Sunday, delighted audience members with the fluctuating, entertaining relationship of widow Lily Harrison (Loretta Swit) and dance instructor Michael Minetti (David Engel).

Harrison hires Minetti through a Florida-based weekly dance program. The two eventually begin to open up to each other, revealing more about their lives as the dance lessons go on. Through quick jabs and heartening reveals, the two not only dance with their bodies but with their personalities as well.

The play exhibits the power of stardom in small numbers, with Engel and Swit being the only actors involved in the production.

Swit, best known for her role as "Hot Lips" Houlihan in “M*A*S*H,” spoke about the importance of her character who is unwilling to submit to old age.

“We must brava at her, she wants to live life to the fullest and refuses to give into a number,” Swit said. “She lies about her age at first but I think she does that half clowning because she gets away with it, she looks young. But I really think she’s okay with her age, it is what it is and it’s just a number – she’s going to live it until it’s 100.”

Swit said her character is inspired by her own mother who passed away at 106 years old. She recognized the liveliness her mother displayed even at an old age, coiffing and styling herself into her 100s.

Swit’s character doesn’t miss a beat on stage, even at her advanced age.

Throughout, Lily Harrison snaps at Ida, a downstairs neighbor who complains about the two dancing upstairs. She describes herself as a “bitty,” makes wise cracks at her co-star and even calls one of her dancing outfits a “f*ck me” dress.

All her comedic ventures drew cheers from the audience, but Swit ventured into serious territory as well.

When her downstairs neighbor dies, Lily breaks, blaming herself for upsetting Ida with her dancing. Her sincerity and honesty extends to her daughter’s abortion, as she doesn’t forgive herself for turning away from her in her time of need.

Michael is always there for Lily, supporting her beyond the six weeks they dance together.

Engel, a Broadway actor, singer and dancer, played Minetti in what was his fourth production of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” Engel said Minetti and Harrison spar in trade-offs on stage, a relationship which is greatly assisted by Swit’s acting.

“The play is brilliant because I equate it to ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ It’s two people who were never meant to meet put in the same room,” Engel said. “The relationship is antagonistic from the start, but it’s like oil and water – you watch and see how they start to challenge each other to open up and become better people.”

Having previously worked with Leslie Caron in another run of the play, Engel said working with a legend like Loretta Swit is a different experience.

“Loretta Swit is feisty; if you know ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan, you know this character,” Engel said.

As much as Lily bites at Michael through scattered disses, Michael bites back.

While Michael teaches Lily the tango, the cha-cha and the foxtrot, his initial lies build the offbeat friendship between the two.

Michael lies about being gay, and tells Lily he has a wife who works in an absurdist animal hospital. He admits to paying for sex once, followed by a zinger that makes the crowd erupt – people pay for sex, “no matter what.”

Just like Swit, Engel shines in emotional moments, as when Michael ultimately closes the show with a promise to look after the widow during her battle with lymphoma.

Jamie Shephard, a theatregoer from West Seneca, attended the play on opening night. Shephard enjoyed the performance and came to see Loretta Swit because of her work on “M*A*S*H.”

“Some of the lines in the play, the one-liners, were very poignant and lasting like a sip of wine,” Shephard said. “Overall, the play was very good and true to life, covering a lot of the important things in life. It showed you can befriend who you think you can’t befriend.”

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior arts editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com.