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.)