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Could I Have This Dance? — Critics’ Choice
Review by Bruce Feld, Drama-Logue, May 16-22, 1991

Two sisters are born into a world unique in many ways. What most sets them apart is a mother who suffers from Huntington’s Disease (HD), a hereditary condition that manifests itself by involuntary movements, gradually declining brain functions and eventual death by pneumonia, heart failure or other complications. The disease usually has its onset between 30 and 50 years of age. There is no cure. One of the sisters is 30, the other 36. One is afraid to date any man more than once; the other is driven to relentlessly plan everything in her life and seems almost incapable of spontaneous behavior.

Both sisters work in a downtown Los Angeles loft, their home as well as the office of Grapevine Public Relations. They run Grapevine successfully, and care for their suffering mother at the same time. Harmony prevails until they discover that scientists have come up with a test for HD, so now they may learn for sure whether or not they will one day share their mother’s fate. Do they take the test or not? Could one of them, or both, have this dance of death?

The summary above may suggest that Could I Have This Dance? is perhaps the legitimate theatre’s version of the "disease of the week," so popular a subject for television movies. But Doug Haverty’s excellent play deals with a good deal more than illness. It covers the world of public relations, modern dating mores, the positive aspects of co-dependancy as well as the negative, the consequences of running from love and a woman’s desire for independence — not necessarily in that order.

Under Jules Aaron’s adroit direction a splendid cast has been assembled. Could I Have This Dance? sparkles like fine champagne, but never intoxicates — though most people who see it will feel happy for hours after they leave the theatre. For in addition to its humanity, it is a damn funny play.

Toni Sawyer as Jeannette Glendenning, the mother with HD, is one of the most poignant mothers in modern drama since The Glass Menagerie, and she accomplishes everything without a word of dialogue. The effort to communicate is so difficult for her that it forces her to find a means of expressing herself closer to, well, dance than anything else.

Elizabeth Norment (Monica) plays the bossy sister who cannot stop planning other people’s lives even when office hours are over. Norment is quite extraordinary in the role.

John Bluto (Hank) assays the father of the family. His heavy bit bracing mixture of compassion and irritation goes a long way to set him apart from more conventional would-be masters of the art of raising a family.

Bonita Friedericy (Amanda) portrays the younger sister who has had just about enough of the confining quarters of her existence. After all, she is too spirited to stay at her home/office say and night like a filly penned in the front yard.

Gil Johnson (Errol) is the classic young American go-getter with a sense of humor. Johnson has the ability to jump back into your affections just as you are about to dismiss him. 

Finally, Robert Stoeckle (Colin) turns the part of a splendid photographer and frightened lover into something of a tour de force. He is every man who has ever balked at commitment; and he is stuck on a woman who does not know whether or not she will be alive at 50. It is a dilemma he cannot, despite himself, refuse. 

The ensemble quality of the acting is another tribute to Jules Aaron’s skillful guidance. The ultimate power of Could I Have This Dance?, though, for all the exceptional work of this gifted company, rests in Doug Haverty’s considerable skill as a playwright. 

Susan Gratch’s set design is completely convincing, and filled with fresh air even though it is an interior. Michael Gillman’s lighting design is never the same for two scenes in a row, yet is so subtle one is never aware of his scheme. Fontella Boone’s costume design is magical; her characters look as nice half-dressed as fully clothed, but best of all, they do not look as if they were wearing designs at all. Credit Tom Rinckner’s sound design for capping the illusion that we are watching the real world. And assistant Richard L. Pedersen as well as technical director Hap Lawrence have also made significant contributions so that this extraordinarily good production remains extraordinary from first moment to last.
 
 

Copyright 1991, Drama-Logue
Reprintec by permission
Could I Have This Dance? at the Colony Theatre