2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘Joey Variations: A Play with Dance’

A poignant and uplifting three-hander, Joey Variations: A Play with Dance, written and directed by Jon Spano, is a seemingly simple story about the psychological and emotional complexities of devastation and renewal. Joey is a talented dancer in crisis; he turns to cocaine and puts his career at risk after a life-altering event thrusts him into the darkness of boredom, fear, and depression. But he is fortunate to have the understanding and support of Svetlana, the Russian-born artistic director of the dance company that employs him, and Rita, the transgendered therapist who counsels him through detox and rehab. With their commitment and guidance, will he be able to turn his life around, and to experience the joy of dance once again?

Bianca Leigh and Matthew Hardy. Photo by Dixie Sheridan.

Bianca Leigh and Matthew Hardy. Photo by Dixie Sheridan.

Matthew Hardy stars as the troubled Joey, Julie Hays is the resilient Svetlana, and Bianca Leigh portrays the proud and self-assured Rita. All three actors deliver sensitive and sympathetic performances as they recount their characters’ intimate backstories in first-person direct address to the audience, interact with each other in short impactful vignettes, and ultimately deal with the loss, bigotry, and hatred they’ve endured through self-reliance, determination, pride, and the help of those who empathize and care. As we get to know them over the course of the one-hour production, we come to number among those who do.

Matthew Hardy. Photo by Dixie Sheridan.

Matthew Hardy. Photo by Dixie Sheridan.

Expressive segments of dance, choreographed by Tom Gold (a 21-year member of NYC Ballet) and performed by Hardy, are interspersed between the monologues and dialogues, physically and artistically evincing the decline and recovery of Joey’s zest for his art, and for life. Video projections by Chelsie McPhilimy, lighting by Steven Zhang, and the sound of Joey’s beating heart underscore the protagonist’s changing states and moods.

Joey Variations is personal and moving, a heartfelt tribute to caregivers and survivors, and a beautiful paean to the need for facing reality and appreciating today, despite the unbearable hardships of yesterday.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.

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Joey Variations plays through Tuesday, August 23, 2016, performing at The Theater at the 14th Street Y – 344 East 14th Street, in New York City. Purchase tickets online.

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