A Dance for Rylie
nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
June 3, 2012
The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity is producing more than 50 shows this year. This is an amazing feat in and of itself. A Dance for Rylie, a new musical by Stephen Davis, is one of them. Centered around the themes of AIDS and discrimination, this musical has a lot to say. Davis fares better with some issues than others, which makes A Dance for Rylie uneven in its effectiveness.
The play opens with a ballad sung by Rylie. In this number we are instantly told that this is a guy down on his luck and hurting deeply. Unfortunately, it also sets up the rest of the play to be a victim piece. And consequently, we want him to stop feeling sorry for himself and live. Thankfully, Davis moves beyond this and we get to see Rylie find a new love in Matthew. Their connection is refreshing. Here's the catch: can Matthew accept that Rylie is HIV-positive? And can Rylie find the courage to tell those closest to him about his disease?
Philip Deyesso does well at capturing the essence of Rylie and Adam Tackett is believable as Matthew. Kimberly Michelle Thomas steals every scene she is in as Samantha, Rylie's best friend. Thomas seems the most comfortable with her role and brings great energy into the piece. Her connection and relationship with Deyesso is clearly the most palpable.
However, I was surprised when a sex scene happened and there was no mention of using protection. The piece is so heavily weighted toward health issues that this omission is startling to say the least. Also, during the scene director Bob Cline chose to have us see the intimate physicality that goes along with having sex. However, it was clear that the actors had their underwear on, which made it hard for us to remain invested in the scene.
But perhaps the greatest strength and weakness of this musical is that it says a lot. Some of the songs seem unnecessary; telling us things that we clearly see. Davis needs to trust his audience and not spell everything out for us. There's so much material and some of it deals with things that aren't central to the story and therefore distract from the profound message that he is trying to convey. I hope Davis will streamline his piece because his message needs to be heard. Don't get me wrong, this piece has great potential and has promise. Right now it's a diamond in the rough.