Actress/playwright Jen Childs is a diminutive woman—I don’t think she even reaches five feet tall. But every ounce of her body is packed with talent. All of which is on display in her one-woman piece WHY I’M SCARED OF DANCE at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse.
Working with director Harriet Power, Childs presents the tale of her encounters with dance—starting with a ballet class at the age of seven. (I was instantly back in my own “tutu” days.) From there we follow along for her first dances with boys as a teen, through the various required classes during her college days as a theatre major and onto her early days as a professional actress. This very personal piece is about her quest to become a great dancer, and how her body (and mind) keeps getting in the way. Childs originally developed it for her own company, 1812 Productions in Philly. The piece was performed there and in Pittsburgh to great critical acclaim.
Offering solid support are Adam Riggar (set), Shelley Hicklin (lights) and Christopher Collucci (sound). Childs has enlisted some of the city’s most gifted and innovative dancers/choreographers to create the movement: Nicole Canuso, Melanie Cotton, Karen Getz and Amanda Miller (with whom she is now studying ballet for the first time since that life-altering class at seven.)
Childs is a superbly gifted comedienne and her timing throughout the piece is impeccable. She also excels at physical comedy and has created some wonderful bits worthy of I Love Lucy. She admits that any productions she participated in professionally that required dance, she hid her perceived shortcomings behind a comedic get-up. Her presentation of the disco and hip-hop eras are a hoot. And her recreations of some of the people she encountered along the way are spot on—as are her parodies of iconic dance movies like Flashdance. It’s a wonderfully calibrated performance.
Childs has you laughing hysterically and then she touches your heart in a deeply honest way. It is through her daughter Lily (now 8 she tells us) that she finally had the epiphany she needed. And she ends the journey with five minutes of joyful abandonment as she dances around the stage. It left me with the message to not be so hard on myself, just try to enjoy the moment. An important thing to remember.
WHY I’M SCARED OF DANCE
By Jen Childs
Directed by Harriet Power
Jan. 15—27, 2013
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002