By Cameron Hughes

The uneven but moving The Slow Dance opened at 59E59 Theaters last night (March 13, 2024) for an 11-day run and it’s worth seeking out. Warning though, tickets are going fast.

The show opens in the living room of a woman’s (Peggy J. Scott) home which is cluttered with packing boxes. Helping her is her son (Cary Donaldson). There is friction between them. She’s trying to find his favorite childhood book to give him before she moves out, but he won’t help locate it and says he doesn’t want the book anyway. He doesn’t seem happy with the idea of his boyhood home being sold and they argue about how and if to pack the martini glasses.

We learn the son has a fiancée (Jasminn Johnson), but inexplicably he’s never introduced her to his mother. The tension is heightened when the mother says she wants to help plan the wedding, but the son says his fiancée insists on hiring a wedding planner.

During scenes with the son and fiancée, we see friction and tension between them as well. He seems to lack character and she comes across as harsh. There’s something pushing them apart but we don’t know what.

The non-binary Sal (Blair Baker), a professional organizer, is hired by the fiancée to help the mother pack, even though the mother and fiancée still haven’t met. The mother is confused at first when Sal tells her they’re non-binary – this is clearly new territory for her – but she quickly accepts Sal with the grace and warmth we want all mothers to have. The son, however, has a harder time and continues to refer to them as “he.”

The fifth character is a large teddy bear (Lucy York) wandering in and out of scenes whenever the son is in conflict (a lot). Only he can see the bear, and it’s unclear at first who the bear is. The son’s conscience? An imaginary helper? A mother figure? When the missing childhood book is found, things begin to clarify.

At the heart of the show is the mother who forms connections with the entire damaged clan. When she finally meets the fiancée, she forms an unexpected bond with her as well. Her true affection for Sal is in some ways the most surprising, and the most endearing. Will she form a closer bond with her son?

Peggy J. Scott is especially skillful at portraying the delightful mother, giving her real humanity and a complex mixture of qualities; harshness, empathy, love, caring, and fear. Less convincing is Cary Donaldson as the son who struggles to ground his character. He’s a bit distant and uneven, though he does deliver a powerfully emotional moment when he talks about the loss of his father. Jasminn Johnson’s performance at first is a bit off-putting, but as her character grows and deepens, you understand how deliberate and skillful her portrayal is. Equally impressive is Blair Baker as Sal (and other characters). Baker gives a warmth and three-dimensionality to Sal, and we understand why the mother is so drawn to them. They form a truly heartwarming connection.

This is a thoughtful play with a lot going on in its brief 75-minute running time. The direction by Lily Kanter Riopelle is smooth and natural, and the writing by playwright Lisi DeHass is engaging and thoughtful, though at times the dialog is strained. The Slow Dance holds your attention through to its satisfying and uplifting conclusion.

The theater is small at 53 seats, but it’s perfect for this set. The intimacy works and the actors are able to speak conversationally at normal volume and still be heard. The scenic design is also perfect.

 

With: Blair Baker (Sal/Others), Cary Donaldson (Son), Jasminn Johnson (Fiancée), Peggy J. Scott (Mother), and Lucy York (The Bear).

Creative Team: Lisi DeHaas (playwright), Lily Kanter Riopelle (director), Apt. 10C Productions, Yi-Hsuan (Ant) Ma (scenic design), Phương Nguyễn (costume design), Paige Seber (lighting design), Bailey Trierweiler & UptownWorks (sound design), Bailey Trierweiler & Evan C. Anderson (original music), and Paul Birtwistle (props design). In addition, Claire Yenson is the Casting Director, Leana Gardella is the Intimacy/Fight Choreographer, Emilio Ramos is the Choreographer, and Erica Zippel Schnitzer is the Production Stage Manager.

The Slow Dance opened March 13, 2024 with a limited run through March 23, 2024 at 59E59 Theaters in theater C. Show times are Tuesday–Saturday at 7:30PM, and Saturday-Sunday at 2:30PM. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $27 and are on sale here.