SU Drama's 'Stepping Out' is a toe-tapping good time

Review: An expressive cast saves the airy 'Stepping Out' from its most problematic element: its writing.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at Green Room Reviews on Nov. 17, 2014.

SU Drama’s second play of the season, Stepping Out, felt like an extra long episode of Seinfeld: It was laugh-out-loud funny, but it was a play about nothing.

Staged in a church basement in London’s West End, the plot involves a 10-person ensemble that meets once a week for a beginning tap dance class. The new dancers live dysfunctional lives and all revel in the escape the class provides them from their worries. They chat about their days, troubles and sex lives, and they hilariously dance to completely different beats (and in different directions) as they try to master a routine to perform at a charity event.

Stepping Out, written by British playwright Richard Harris, was first performed in London in 1984, and went on to win the London Standard’s Best Comedy Award. In 1987, the show hit Broadway theaters, and in 1991 the story was adapted for a film. It will be performed in the Storch Theater at Syracuse stage from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22.

Harris’s script captures what makes us human: relationships, sex, death and being awkward, angry and scared. No one character receives more limelight than any other; instead, the production focuses on the class and its ability to bring these oddballs closer.

Intimate moments make up the heart of the play. These moments let the audience catch a glimpse of the characters’ lives outside tap. But, it’s just a glimpse – nothing more. These little windows occur through conversations that the actors have as they wait for class to begin and as they pack up to leave. These moments are too brief. Harris doesn’t give the audience a chance to learn enough about the characters to really connect with them. These juicy tidbits spark a curiosity that is never satisfied.

What the actors are able to do with a problematic script deserves a standing ovation. They bring each of their dysfunctional characters to life through mannerisms, habits, accents, body language and how they each posses a unique manner of stomping or gliding around the wooden dance floor.

The ensemble was well casted. Madie Polyak, a musical theater junior, was well suited to her role as the patient dance teacher. From her vulnerability after realizing someone was watching her dance when she thought she was alone to her losing her temper with the class members for having two left feet — Polyak executes her character well.

Carol Foose, an acting senior, shined as the sassy saleswoman Maxine. Her body language and facial expressions spoke volumes. Musical theater senior Natalie Paige Goldberg brought the goody-two-shoe and annoyingly perky Vera to life. Her performance was solid, and her type-A personality was well juxtaposed with the kookiness of the other characters.

The cast of SU Drama's Stepping Out.

Jesse Roth, an acting senior, as Sylvia was responsible for much of the comic relief in the play. When she was remembering her wedding day and delivering lines like: “Mine was quite boring actually. I’m rather sorry I went,” she had the audience in hysterics. Her wit combined with the sarcasm of acting senior Georgina Morillo as Rose made them class-act stooges.

However, moments such as acting sophomore Lindsey Maria Elizabeth Newton’s delivery of Andy’s breakdown felt somewhat forced and rather random. Andy’s character wasn’t fleshed out enough for us to understand the source of her pent up anger or why she chose to burst when she does.

Costuming was crucial to the success of this play, and Kiersten Kozbial-Wu’s vision for the production was flawless. The costuming added another character to the show – the '80s. If you are a fan of '80s fashion - off-the-shoulder sweat shirts, leg warmers, neon, spandex - then Stepping Out is the play for you. In one scene, a metallic jumpsuit was a remarkable and well-chosen piece of garb for Vera to strut around in.

The ending was a bit of a free-for-all. It was clearly not meant to resolve anything and seemed to merely be a crowd pleaser. The audience gets to see the dancers’ efforts pay off as they perform their big tap number. The audience also sees Andy actually link arms with Geoffrey, the only male character in the play, which was puzzling. It was a happily-ever-after ending tacked on as if the play was a fairytale.

Don’t expect to be hooked by the character development or plot devices, but if you want to laugh until your stomach hurts and enjoy a light and airy play, you will see some incredible performances if you step on out to this SU Drama production.

Photos by Michael Davis.

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