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Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks: Missed step 

Georgia Ensemble Theatre comedy loses its footing

When dance instructor Michael Minetti (Robert Egizio) begins his private class with elderly Lily Harrison (Jackie Prucha) in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, he half-heartedly places some of those artificial, numbered footsteps on the floor to show her the moves.

Directed by Robert J. Farley for Roswell's Georgia Ensemble Theatre, the odd-couple comedy turns out to be so predictable and rigidly structured, it might as well be following artificial footsteps, too. Showing expert comic timing, Prucha and Egizio prove to be nimble on their feet, but Richard Alfieri's script keeps them boxed in.

The title is nearly a misnomer; although the action takes place at Lily's condo in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla., during the appointed lessons, the pair spends most of its time in cycles of bickering and bonding rather than practicing the tango or the waltz. A gay former "chorus boy" from New York City, Michael generates most of the friction with his hot temper and assumption that Lily, the wife of a Baptist minister, may be a bigot. Despite arguing and exposing each other's lies, the two inevitably become friends and share painful experiences from their pasts, as per the formula for comedies about mismatched pairs.

In 2007 the sleeper hit movie Once showed the almost-romantic relationship between two initially wary strangers, who found common interest in leisurely but compelling scenes of playing music. I wish that Alfieri's play had as much confidence in the dance lessons to show Michael and Lily getting to know each other nonverbally, through learning the steps and putting them together. When Prucha does the hitchhike "with attitude" or Egizio (a dancer and choreographer) athletically leaps across the stage, their actions turn out to be more eloquent than the play's rote dialogue.

Admittedly, the play wrings laughs from its premise, and the less contrived second act includes some intriguing discussion of the value of companionship: Michael cynically declares that love is Santa Claus for adults. It's a surprise and a disappointment that a play called Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks could leave you wanting less talk and more dance.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. Through Jan. 20. $23-$33. Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Georgia Ensemble Theatre, 950 Forrest St., Roswell. 770-641-1260.

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