David Patrone’s tenuous grasp on his existence is clear from the outset of The David Dance: He’s just lost his job hosting Buffalo, N.Y., late-night radio program Gay Talk; he’s lost his beloved older sister, Katie, not yet 40; and he’s about to lose his boyfriend and assistant Chris as well. “I just wish, once in a while, you’d let me in,” Chris harangues David in an attempt to force him to save himself from crippling inertia. It’s a clichéd line in a script that uneasily balances authenticity and awkwardness. The production, unfortunately, often leans toward the heavy-handed side of that equation, with the set’s mirror-image consoles that become, at stage left and stage right, respectively, the broadcast consoles of David and conservative radio host June Handley. There’s also Katie’s ghost, appearing heartbreakingly spunky and lovable through a filmy curtain. And there’s the relentless winter imagery to echo David’s frozen state. But strong performances keep Dance from being hopelessly boilerplate. As Katie, Liesyl Franz is imperious yet vulnerable, admirable yet flawed—despite the help she gives David with his relationships, both as a postmortem apparition and a very much alive figure in flashback sequences, she’s had three failed marriages and a career that didn’t match her grandiose childhood dreams. Scimé, who plays his title character/alter ego, tinges his melancholy with self-deprecating humor, as in an early sequence where he bumps-and-twangs his way through an ad for a gay hootenanny. And Anne Paine West, who carries a lion’s share of the play with three roles, adds the most verisimilitude. Her nun is quietly authoritative and her pediatric-hospital nurse warmly compassionate. And her Dr. Laur—er, June—is surprisingly complex. Sure, she spouts the expected chapter and verse against gay marriage and parenting in her confrontations with David. But in her last scene, she reveals a core of humanity that playwright Scimé would have done better to explore further. Thing is, when she tells David, with a flicker of empathy amid a heap of condescension, “You’re not really whole, are you?” she’s utterly right, if for the wrong reasons. Add the troubling retrogradism of redemption through parenthood, and you’ve got a lot of muddy issues that, at the evening’s end, aren’t nearly as clear as the Buffalo snow. David never undergoes a realistic thaw, and the audience can’t quite warm to him either.
—Pamela Murray Winters