By James Bartholomew
No one knows how to work a crowd quite like Diane Ripstein, the writer and performer of “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s.” From the moment she walks onto the stage holding her fifty‑year‑old pink tulle tutu, until the lights come down on her last dance, Ms. Ripstein beams with infectious smiles and magnetizing charisma. Her story might not be the most earth‑shattering one you’ll hear at this year’s United Solo Theatre Festival, but the storyteller herself might just be its most vivacious.
“Move on the Cha‑Cha’s” is the autobiographical story of its performer finding her footing. And, being a dancer, Ms. Ripstein is more than familiar with the steps. She grew up with a passion for ballet, mingled with singles over salsa, and swing danced to classic Yiddish bop, so dance has been interwoven into the fabric of her life from an early age. But as the dancer is more than happy to remind us, just because you’re on your feet doesn’t mean you know where you’re going. “Swan Lake” may have fanned the embers of love in her teenaged heart, but listening to the ballet endlessly hardly prepared the young Ms. Ripstein for middle school romance. And by the same token, no amount of salsa dancing can make an awkward singles night less demoralizing.
But while Ms. Ripstein spends much of the play narrating her often comic misadventures, she’s always ready to pepper the story with cartoonish characters from her colorful past. She bounces from endearing versions of her childhood self to thoughtlessly glib dance instructors. Most notable of all, and always stealing center stage on the dance floor, is Ms. Ripstein’s Bubbe, who solicits the audience, trying to find dates for her granddaughter, while constantly doling out amusing and insightful nuggets of wisdom. “Life keeps moving,” the Bubbe reminds us. “What are we to do, not go along with it?”
Ms. Ripstein’s boundless energy and humor are almost enough to make one forget about the pervasive sense of familiarity in “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s.” The particulars of her story are, of course, unique to Ms. Ripstein, but the broad strokes are bound to feel somewhat commonplace. This is the story of an artist who is thrown a few curveballs but, in the end, keeps her head held high. And while the show’s simple premise may not prove memorable on its own, Ms. Ripstein’s ubiquitous charm makes this play greater than the sum of its parts.
“Move on the Cha‑Cha’s” is at its best when its performer’s passion for dance is on full display. Early on, Ms. Ripstein launches into a ridiculous summary of her favorite childhood ballet, “Swan Lake.” Playing up the latent absurdity of the Tchaikovsky classic and its emptyheaded hero, she glides around the stage, performing a heavily abridged recap, and pointing out the story’s inconsistences when she sees them. It’s a riotous scene that showcases both Ms. Ripstein’s whimsical wit and her devotion to dance. That precarious balance is what makes “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s” special, so it’s a bit unfortunate that the emphasis on dance is downplayed in the second half of the show.
Still, “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s” is a joy‑filled, life affirming reminder to always take things in stride, and never too seriously. The heavy lifting comes from Ms. Ripstein herself, who is funny, spirited, warm, and sincere. The footwork may not be fancy, but “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s” is still light on its feet.
“Move On The Cha-Cha’s”
Performed by Diane Ripstein
Directed by Bobbie Steinbach
September 28 at 4 PM and 7 PM, and October 19 at 7:30pm
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2019
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.