by Ed Malin · October 24, 2013
The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 3 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Theater Now Playwright Ed Malin looks at Shut Up And Dance written and performed by Stella Valente Shut Up And Dance is Stella Valente's fabulous solo show about a New York woman's love of tango and so much more. Haven't we heard that it takes two to tango? This makes the solo nature of the performance all the more impressive. Energy and humor consistently flow through this 70-minute piece.
It's the story of a wide-eyed young woman who can't sit still, so she dances. This charming personality grows up in Queens, with an ably-portrayed Italian family. Her mother is beautifully confrontational. Her father, an ex-marine, is so under control that even his emotions are classified. The nuns at Catholic school rap young Stella on the knees when she forgets to cross her legs. Isn't it interesting that in her dance lessons, the teacher is asking Stella to open her legs more? Working at a ballroom dance studio was not her first choice; the people there dress like caricatures in slutty clothing. But when she realizes that this describes everyone she knows in Queens, it's OK.
An acting career, some anger management issues, a night in jail, these all lead to some time in Argentina, where the tango reigns. Here, with brilliant insight, Stella explains that although she does find pleasure in a man leading her in a dance, the tango allows for much more give and take. Any tango starts when a man makes eye contact with a woman in a dancehall, then she nods her consent, and then they meet on the floor. The end of every five counts is the woman's step, and this is where she suggests to the man what his next move should be. Stella's character is looking for balance (she becomes a yoga instructor and finds herself oppressed by her load of enlightenment, and must admit that instead of boyfriends she has mainly "projects" and "fixer-uppers") but I suspect that anyone in the audience can benefit from her story of personal growth.
There are so many more funny and happy details in this story, I'd better stop now so you can go see it. Through many different characters and costume changes, director Paul Messinger doesn't let the action stop. With Stella Valente to work with, I'm sure there could be no other result. I would look forward to seeing Stella's next move.