Friday's opening performance of Broom Street Theater's Dancing With My Other ended with an ambulance. Callen Harty, Broom Street's artistic director and father of the show's director, suffered a heart attack. He's reported to be recovering and doing well, but the rest of last weekend's performances were cancelled. The play is set to resume its run Nov. 21 with other performers in Harty's two roles: The performer N-dig0 will appear as Paul, and Joseph Lutz will appear as Frank.
A theater review seems like an afterthought amid such scary news, but here goes.
At first glance, Broom Street Theater's Dancing With My Other is a story about coming home. Hannah's fresh out of jail. She's served over 25 years for killing her husband. She heads back to her hometown and to the open arms and cozy kitchen of her sister Ruth. But things are never that easy, and Dancing with My Other rises above any clichéd ideas of sisters sweetly bonding over apple pie, letting bygones be bygones.
Directed by Lauri Harty, daughter of Callen, Dancing With My Other was written by Kathie Rasmussen. Rasmussen was an active member of Broom Street Theater, appearing onstage and working behind the scenes. She died last year, just a few weeks after submitting Dancing With My Other to Broom Street for review. On opening night, her family filled the front row.
Kathie Rasmussen's family and friends certainly have every right to be proud. Dancing With My Other is a tremendously well-crafted play. The dialogue is genuine and the characters are people we just might know. The scenes are taken from everyday life, yet the writing never teeters into anything dull. Like the best and worst moments in life, Kathie Rasmussen's script is funny and heartbreaking and shocking.
Through a gradual unfurling of the characters' pasts and presents, this show explores the complexity of relationships and the ghosts that fill the dusty corners of the characters' lives. Dancing With My Other isn't really about an ex-con coming home; rather, it questions what it means to be a woman by looking at the intricacies of being a sister, a mother, a lover.
Done on a budget of just $250, Dancing With My Other is produced with no bells and whistles, but who needs bells and whistles when you have a smart, real script and a bunch of actors willing to act their little hearts out?
As former convict Hannah, Amanda Hammer is transfixing. She plays the extremes of her character with great care and authoritative grace. It is through her tiny movements -- the straightening of a coffee cup, the lighting of a cigarette -- that the audience understands Hannah's nonchalance is something else entirely: well-blended camouflage.
While Hammer steals the show, Jacqueline Villareal Baker plays the sweetness of Ruth to the point that I wondered if I could take her home to be my new favorite aunt. As for Callen Harty, he gave a big performance opening night in his two small parts, especially as town curmudgeon Frank. Frank's barstool tirade is outrageous -- he enthusiastically retells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and blames everyone from gays to minorities for what he sees as the demise of civilization.
Throughout the show, recorded music is used, often to seal the small gaps of scene changes. The songs -- by Tori Amos, Indigo Girls, and others -- play like a homemade mix tape, circa 1996. Since so much of real life is supplemented by radios, iPods, and jukeboxes, the use of music contributes to the authentic feel of the show. The songs are well-chosen aesthetically and thematically.
The show has one standout problem, albeit a minor one: the flashback sequences. From happy memories of grandpa to the grit of war, these pantomimed melodramas interrupt the show's otherwise smooth flow with stereotyped, poorly-costumed characters. The visuals for these vignettes could have been best left to the imagination.
Overall, Dancing With My Other is a joy -- a well-written script performed by talented actors -- that lingers with the audience long after the curtain call.