There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.

Dance Place: Cafritz Foundation Theater

Remaining performances (tickets available here):

Sunday, July 19 at 1:45pm
Saturday, July 25 at 8:35pm
Sunday, July 26 at 1:30pm

They say: Hopeless Romantics, Lonely Hearts, Players and Mr. Right – you are the next contestants on The Princess & The Pea. Grab your dance card and your worst dating stories as we search high and low for true love.

Emily’s take: S.J. Ewing & DancersThe Princess and the Pea opens with a dating game-show setup (titled “The Mating Game” in homage to The Dating Game). No dramatic scenes awarding roses here — instead director Sarah J. Ewing poses as the bachelorette, quizzing her two potential dates in classic “Bachelor number one…” style. Mat Elder, as the first bachelor, flexes his biceps and prattles on about pizza in a flat but funny caricature, while Thomas Moore as Bachelor #2 plays a closer approximation of a pleasant conversationalist, pondering Ewing’s questions on perfect dates and guilty pleasures. Briana Stuart is the show’s poised host, floating gracefully above it all, occasionally interjecting to direct the action to a “commercial break,” a cue for the group to begin a dance number.

The dancing in the early half of the show is bright and cheery, set to songs like Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband,” with the wholesome feeling of a 1950s sock-hop musical. A version of “Iko Iko” by the Belle Stars also makes an appearance – a Mardis Gras parade song familiar to many who were watching Nickelodeon in the 1990s when the network borrowed it for a commercial. Ewing questions the two bachelors on what they would do to get her attention, prompting a playful push-and-tumble duet.

Then more orchestral music starts to seep in. A solo featuring Ewing previews a more melancholy side of the show. Gone is the grinning, hamming group, replaced with a darker and more desperate vision. At one moment, Elder advances threateningly on Stuart, who shoves him away. The light comes back with Moore lip-syncing, as karaoke-loving Bachelor #2, to “Too Many Fish in the Sea” by the Marvelettes, the other three swaying as backup dancers.

After the Motown moment, the change to orchestral music is permanent, dropping the conceit of the dating show and replacing it with somber contemporary dance. The interspersed scenes stop, and the four dancers let go their characters as dance follows on dance in varying combinations, from solo to duet to trio and back with a different duet.

The break with the narrative form is a little unexpected, and the ending somewhat abrupt, though it features Ewing again with her presumed choice of Moore.

Despite the title, the dating game doesn’t have much to do with millennials in particular, and the myth about a tendency to bruise as an indication of royalty is entirely absent. Instead, it draws inspiration from attempted romantic connection with a fissure between its light and dark sides, in gap in its shift between the concrete and the abstract.

See it if: You never tire of the schadenfreude that comes from hearing other people’s dating stories.

Skip it if: You forgot to turn off your “Millennials to Snake People” Chrome extension and thought this was a show about romance and reptiles.

Photo courtesy of S.J. Ewing & Dancers