review by Sander Gusinow
‘The Actual Dance,’ written and performed by Samuel A. Simon, passes the realm of theatre as entertainment into the less storied realm of theatre as therapeutics. The play is complete autobiography, journaling Simon’s experience with his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. He likens the journey with a loved one through a terminal illness to a dance, a waltz to be exact, allowing he and his wife to slow down and savor their dwindling moments together.
Mr. Simon is not a veteran performer. As much as this may read as a rebuke, he brings a commendable (if slightly nervous) earnestness to the stage. Director Kate Holland often steers Mr. Simon pushes him towards precision of movement, but it doesn’t sit comfortably with him. Perhaps a simple desk would have sufficed (paging Mike Daisey) and may have gelled better with the live performers onstage, who underscore the monologue. Despite this uneasiness, Holland’s work with Simon on character creation considerably lifts the performance, The brightest moment of Mr. Simon’s play comes in Mr. Simon’s portrayal of his overly affable doctor, dubbed ‘Dr. Happy’ by his wife.
Mr. Simon goes through considerable grief due to the diagnosis, all the while gently reminiscing about his wife, the death of his own mother, and the elaborate metaphor about mortality’s lavish last dance. The show is cut short when lucky roll of the oncological dice rescues Simon’s wife her cancer. It’s a welcome, albeit abrupt, ending. She never goes through treatment, and although Simon cares for her during a double mastectomy, they never ‘actually’ dance the emblematic dance to which his script alludes. For all the buildup, for all the vivid imagery of the dance metaphor, it’s a frustrating finish.
But it’s the happiest kind of frustration. Although dramatically not as arresting as it could have been, there was no denying the joy in seeing the actual Mrs. Simon rise from the audience to an ovation come show’s end. For anyone who’s had to deal with a difficult diagnosis, ‘The Actual Dance’ will no doubt ring relatable.