Contact has faithfully transferred from small stage to big at Lincoln Center, its virtues unimpaired, its flaws unrepaired. John Weidman wrote three barely verbal sketches that Susan Stroman choreographed and directed into dances with words. The first, Swinging, is an interpretation of a 1768 Fragonard painting to recorded modern music that does not suit it. Neither does Weidman’s cutesy plot or Stroman’s somewhat coarse choreography.
Did You Move? takes place in a 1954 Queens Italian restaurant, where a mafioso type and his brutalized, repressed wife are cheerlessly dining. The man gripes about the service and bullies his spouse. When he absents himself to get food from remote buffet tables (but why, then, all those waiters, and are the tables in another borough?), the wife, in fantasy, enjoys wild dances with waiters and other diners. But (don’t ask me how) these fantasies are somehow also real. Here the recorded classical music works better, and Karen Ziemba is enchanting as the wife. The choreography, though not especially imaginative, is serviceable.
Finally, Contact, the longest and best piece. Though well worth the price of admission, it, too, would profit from an apt original score and live orchestra. A successful ad executive in 1999 is bored to death with his life and, despite concerned messages from his shrink and friends on his answering machine, tries to hang himself. He fumbles this and fantasizes two trips to a swing-dancing club, where he falls for a mysterious, highly seductive girl in a yellow dress who dances with everyone and cares for nobody. He also keeps getting messages from a young woman in the apartment below to buy rugs and make her ceiling less noisy. As he botches yet another suicide, who should bang on his door but that downstairs neighbor, and who should she turn out to be?
Weidman’s contribution is again dubious but is enough for Stroman’s choreography to take flight and do small wonders. Her dancers are all terrific, and Thomas Lynch’s set, William Ivey Long’s costumes, and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting hit the spot. But the triumph is in the principals. Boyd Gaines, an accomplished actor, proves also a charming dancer and is both droll and touching. And Deborah Yates – as dancer, actress, woman – is irresistible, and Stroman cleverly presents her both as cool in sexy attire and adorable barefoot, hair down, in sleepwear. With Gaines for the ladies and Yates for the gents in amorous entanglement, no spectator leaves shortchanged.