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Light on Its Feet

Pat Kirk

Who Leads? Peg (Becky London) mixes ballroom dancing with burgeoning feminism in Peta Murray's "Wallflowering."

San José Rep traces the curve of a relationship in dance in 'Wallflowering'

By Anne Gelhaus

BALLROOM DANCING has enjoyed a cultural revival of late, but Wallflowering is arguably the first theatrical production to delve into the larger social implications of tripping the light fantastic. Playwright Peta Murray draws astonishing parallels between the structure of a troubled marriage and the structure of the moves the couple makes on the dance floor.

In the U.S. premiere of this stirring Australian play, San José Repertory Theatre uncovers a wealth of emotional resonance in Murray's use of dance as a metaphor for the couple's evolving relationship. The story is set in the late 1980s, when the feminist movement was making its mark on the Land Down Under, and is ostensibly about Peg's (Becky London) struggle for self-determination within the confines of her very traditional marriage. She embraces the seductive rhythms of the rumba and a friend's copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves with equal fervor.

Husband Cliff (Michael Butler), meanwhile, is aghast at his wife's transformation and horrified by her requests to learn some new dance steps and to let her lead once in awhile. "These are championship moves," he argues. "We've always won with these."

Bick Goss choreographed the moves for the Rep's production, and he is also the male half of the pair of dancers who shadow Peg and Cliff throughout the show and mirror their counterparts' emotional state through movement. Goss may not have the fluidity required of a champion ballroom hoofer, but the moves he put together for himself and partner Susan Lynn Bragg provide powerful insight into the unspoken yearnings of a husband and wife.

And while most women should be able to identify with Peg's yearnings on some level, it's Cliff whose needs turn out to be more complex and compelling. Outwardly, Cliff is a harmless, nerdy fellow easily dismissed by the circle of "friends" in which he and Peg travel. But Butler's portrayal reveals with aching clarity his character's desire to be more than the sum of his parts, and when he finally achieves this goal in the end, it comes across as a huge victory, especially given that the biggest obstacle he faces is his own self-perception.

When all is said and danced, Wallflowering emerges as an intelligent, romantic fable, an honest yet hopeful tale of modern love that shows it's possible for two people to stay in step with each other even as they're dancing to different rhythms.

Wallflowering plays Tuesday­Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4:30 and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Wednesday (Jan. 29 only) at noon through Feb. 2 at the Montgomery Theater, San Carlos and Market streets, San Jose. Tickets are $16­$30. (408/291-2255)

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro

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