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Off Broadway


LooLa

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

LooLa bills itself as a "a dance play," and for the most part, the description is pretty apt; the show is almost non-stop dancing of one sort or another. Given the lengthy resume of credits provided by the show's creator, Tesha Buss, this makes sense. The dance in this dance play is easy to find, the play itself is harder.

LooLa itself has almost no dialogue. It does have an almost constant stream of music (some familiar songs, some new) played over the theater's sound system. Occasionally the music will fall away and be replaced by poetic passages recited by the play's title character, played by Amy Hemel. That, however, frequently feels like the place where we need spoken words the least and dance the most.

There is something of a story, with LooLa moving to New York to pursue a dancing career, initially being defeated by the city until she finds a way to conquer it instead. This allows for typical "fish-out-of-water" scenes such as learning about the use of Metrocards, riding the subway, working in a crowded diner (her day job) or auditioning for a particularly demanding choreographer.

While not without their charm, these scenes are workmanlike and, while occasionally interesting, don't always seem to merit the dance treatment they receive. Far more interesting is Buss's take on an airport security checks. In a way, it's the most down-to-earth scene in the play, detailed enough to include the heroine's shoes being inspected!

The show's primary centerpiece is more conventional, but well done nonetheless. LooLa finds herself in a dance club, where she is slowly acculturated to the more modern and improvisational dances they do there. After she's caught on, she catches the eye of one of the men, danced by Jason Nious, and they begin an extensive flirtation told, again, entirely through dance.

At this point, the choreography, which had been an unusual and rather attractive take on modern popular dancing, becomes more ineffective, crying out for something that would better explain the characters' emotions. Though the other dancers eventually do fade away, leaving the lovers to continue their relationship in private, it's very difficult to care about the central couple. Because there was so little depth to their relationship, when it ends, it really is a "so what" moment. We know LooLa will continue to dance.

The group of ten performers Buss has assembled is a talented one, and they work together nicely, giving good shape and character to the dances and situations Buss has set forth. But the characters and situations aren't the point, the dances are. The dances you get are all clever, each based around a certain theme, and each would be fine on its own, but without the dramatic threads to really connect one moment to the next, LooLa feels more like a dance recital than a play.

If that's what you're looking, then go see it. At just over 40 minutes, LooLa is compact enough to succeed at entertaining on the least demanding terms.

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LooLa
As part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Raw Space, 529 West 42nd Street, Studio L
Through July 26
Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central (212) 279-4200