The Sam Simon who write and performs The Actual Dance is not the famous Sam Simon – not the co-creator of The Simpsons and TV produceer who is now, with horrible irony, dying of cancer – but he is accomplished enough. He was one of the original Nader’s Raiders, and built a deserved reputation as a good lawyer and a public advocate with a knack for crafting solutions satisfactory to all parties.
The business of The Actual Dance is his wife Susan’s battle with stage-3 breast cancer – or, more accurately, how Simon dealt with his wife’s disease. In confronting himself during this 45-minute monologue, Simon is honest and fearless. He makes no effort to cover up his own weakness and selfishness, and so displays the soul of an artist.
Regrettably, he lacks the artist’s technical skill. Looking at the floor, muttering, occasionally getting his lines wrong, Simon makes us uncomfortable, but never moves us. Simon, who has taken some training as an actor, delivers his monologue in a stagey, semi-breathless manner. When added-in sounds – hospital noises and the like (Jon Roberts does the sound design) – intrude, he seems at sea. Despite the heartrending subject matter, he is without passion throughout. He screams once – to himself.
Even more importantly, he misses important opportunities to say something compelling about the impending death of someone you love more than life. There is great art in death: consider Wit, consider Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, consider even Peter DeVries’ novel “The Blood of The Lamb” in which the protagonist reacts to the death of his daughter by throwing a cream pie in the face of a statue of Jesus Christ.
But Simon gets none of it.
Instead, he fulminates against a surgeon he calls Dr. Happy. Dr. Happy’s team is responsible for a number of bad diagnoses – invariably, by making optimistic findings which he is forced to reverse a few days later. None of Dr. Happy’s errors materially contribute to Susan’s worsening condition, although they must have been psychologically devastating.
The Actual Dance
by Sam Simon
at Fort Fringe — Bedroom
612 L Street NW
Details and tickets
Simon hammers his central metaphor – that death is a dance between the dying and his or her beloved – mightily, but it never sticks. Why should death be a dance? The man gurgling in his own blood after a streetcorner holdup goes bad – is he dancing? The Sudanese woman dying in childbirth a hundred miles away from a medical facility – is she dancing?
To draw art from such a terrible event as this requires more than a piling on of the quotidian events which lead to the result; more than observations about the medical system or the people who inhabit it; and more than a forced metaphor. It requires insight.
It seems churlish to complain that a man who has suffered through such a catastrophic event has failed to use sufficient art to describe it, but that is what I am paid to do, and I have done it.