A Jazzercise Play

I saw a night of theater I’ll never forget last night. The Last Class: A Jazzercise Play, written by Megan Hill, by a new theater collective called Dodo is up through next weekend, March 5th.

It’s a comedy that unfolds over the course of a jazzercise class, the last, sparsely-attended one at a small town community rec center, and the instructor, played by Hill herself, is not happy about it. I went because the actor Amy Staats, who’s always funny, plays her co-instructor, and the two of them did indeed make a great comic duo.

Very American, this content, this belief in the power of positive thinking, even in the face of pathetic disinterest – or worse, when you feel debilitating anger welling up inside of you, as Hill’s instructor does when she thinks of the new rec director Chelsea poaching her jazzercise students and then 86’ing the class to make room for her own Zumba class.

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This kind of humor, New York theater people poking fun at Middle America, can come off as mean-spirited, but I never got that sense from the group, I suppose because they were so on topic about the struggle: What is the limit? What wound is so personal that positivity can not fix it? And it helped that as a conceit it has the built-in forward motion of the class, a beginning, middle and end.

It also helped enormously that Hill inserted a touching monologue near the end, in which her instructor detailed why she became a jazzercise instructor, everything it means to her to be good at something, which elevates the whole play to a more universal, honest and sadder level.

Film geek confession: The minute it began, I was reminded of Winter Light – another tight timeline of a story, about a crisis of faith a small-town priest goes through while facing the fact that no one wants to come to his masses.

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Father, Son, and Jazzercise.

The Theaterlab on 36th Street is a great, intimate space for the play – though part of me would love to see it again in a grander place, with more of a class following along. There are special deals to see it if you’re willing to participate as a jazzercise student, but word is there’s a waiting list for that.

At one point last night another patron in the back row (there are only three rows) pushed his chair too far back and tumbled backward off the stadium seating. Until it became clear he was unharmed (and it seemed like it could have been ugly for a few seconds there), Hill stopped the play. Staats shook her head and blamed it on Chelsea, who’s letting the rec center go to hell. Magic.

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