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The Director
Playwright D.L. Coburn
Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore
Key Scene Study
Fonsia and Weller dancing

The Dance Scene

D.L. Coburn  


The dance scene was added a few years ago when I received a phone call from Charles Nelson Reilly, the director of the Broadway revival. He was relaying a message from Julie Harris, who played Fonsia. Julie thought, wouldn't it be nice since Charles Durning is such a wonderful dancer if they could dance at some point? I called Charles Nelson Reilly back and said, "Don't encourage anyone on this run because it's very likely not going to happen."

About two weeks later, while having dinner with my wife, we were listening to Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz." And this is a very curious piece. It's strange in that the lyrics are, in some cases, bizarre, but they are such beautiful harmonies. I started to see how a dance scene could offer a moment where we come to a full appreciation of the two characters as they get as close as we want them to be.

So I set about writing the scene and we performed it in the Broadway revival, and it was wonderful. Then we did it in again the West End production in London in 1999, with Joss Ackland and Dame Dorothy Tutin. And I continued to refine the scene there. Frith Banbury was the director there and one of the noted directors of the 20th Century in the English theater. So I called Frith afterwards and asked him if he felt the scene belongs. And he said, "Don, I not only feel it belongs, but that it's imperative. It's an essential part of the work." I'm now confident of that, and it was good to get that confirmation.

It's essential because it offers a moment where we come to a full empathy and appreciation of the two characters and how close they, for a moment, get to where we want them to be. Not in some sentimental romance of old age or anything like that, but just having something in their lives that is enriching and making them happy. We certainly aren't well down that road but we're hinting at it with this dance. And then the dance reveals some of the psychological elements of lost abilities in Weller. And Fonsia can then get so much closer to him and feel so much for him when he has to sit down and can't continue with the dance. It gives her a real feeling for Weller that perhaps is expressed as well as it can be in that moment.

I'm more interested in showing the psychological aspects of getting older, but, of course, physical health does play a part in that. Weller knows that dancing is something that he was once even noted for and he knows this is going to be extremely difficult for him because he's been having great difficulty with his leg. Fonsia doesn't realize that. He tries to go right over that, as though it doesn't exist, and they do dance but he has to give it up after 20 seconds or so. There's that great loss of things that we used to be able to do that we can no longer do. So the physical is a big element in the despair in getting older.

I don't see the dance scene as leading us into any sense that this is a romance or that anything about this play has been about a developing romance. Certainly, we hope that Fonsia and Weller can become closer, but we're not building to a romance. We've got two people who are just trying to have someone to simply be there. It's another human being. There's no one else either one of them can talk to in there. So it's really not so much a romance as it is just a human need that we hope they can fulfill.

I do not see the dance scene as an option for producers at this point. Not only do I not see this as a modular scene that can be plugged in or out at a director's discretion, but I also don't want any other choice of music to be made because "Take This Waltz" inspired me to write this scene. I'd like it to be a part of the play as long as the rights are available.

(The dance scene can be downloaded from D.L. Coburn's site, thegingame.com.)
 

Fonsia and Weller dancing
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View the Dance Scene, with director's commentary.

 

Arvin Brown 


D. L. Coburn added a dance scene for a production of The Gin Game that was done recently with Julie Harris and Charles Durning. I was unaware that it was optional whether the director uses this or not. With Dick and Mary, it was just irresistible because they're both fabulous dancers. As they dance together, I have the camera on a crane, and we rise up slowly with them. The camera expresses their sense of being lifted. In the next moment, a hand-held camera is directly on their faces, moving in a circular way with them as they dance. Those kinds of decisions you can make with the camera are life-enhancing for the piece.

Mary found wonderful ways to try to entice Dick onto the floor with her, because his character is reluctant to dance. Dick and Mary very carefully sidestepped any question of coming together and suddenly dazzling us with fancy footwork. It's a lovely moment to watch them do it, but it's a Fonsia-Weller moment.

They didn't act like legends for one second. They certainly know the position they occupy in the American psyche. They were coming back together again for the first time since 1970, and people were thrilled at the idea of this. I think they were genuinely touched by people's interest in the project.
 

Fonsia and Weller dancing

Dick Van Dyke 


It just felt marvelous. It was not in the original. It was first done in the production with Julie Harris and Charlie Durning. And it fit us so well. And what seems to happen in that moment is that they're definitely being young again. It really is such a pretty scene.
 


Mary Tyler Moore 


Fonsia learns, through Weller, to loosen up a little bit and to fantasize a little bit about what might be again for her. There's a wonderful scene where on hearing the waltz that is being played in the dance lesson that's taking place across the hall, she convinces him to get up and dance with her. And it's a magical moment. It's wonderful.

There's the layer of seeing Rob and Laura together... in their rapture. In their being young again as they're whirling in the waltz. Ahh. It really got to me and I was afraid that, by the time we stopped and went into the dialogue, that I'd be crying, which would have been inappropriate.
 


 

 
 

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