Jen Childs may be scared of dance, but she's not scared to admit it. She's also not scared to boogie onstage in a gold skintight getup, reliving embarrassing teen dance moments. However, in her autobiographical solo show, Why I'm Scared of Dance, the artistic director of 1812 Productions seems skittish about playing herself.
How can something so personal feel so acted? Scared's familiar one-person-play patter sounds tentative, self-conscious and calculated, with seemingly off-the-cuff comments feeling rehearsed. Sometimes Childs the comedy writer drowns out Childs the human, with tidy punch lines like "Ballet, the Guantánamo Bay of the dance world." True or not, events like the inevitable white-suburban-girl-does-black-urban-dance feel like bits, not life-defining moments.
The production, directed by Harriet Power, is impeccable, with Chris Colucci's clever sound design sampling iconic songs and Shelley Hicklin's lighting defining a nearly bare stage.
Scared begins to coalesce when Childs recounts how she defeats her fears, confessing that "a funny costume hides a multitude of sins." She dances an amazing medley in a clown's baggy pants and red nose, ranging from West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof to Madonna, Beyonce and Flashdance (choreography by Melanie Cotton, Amanda Miller, Karen Getz and Nichole Canuso). Ironically, the clownish disguise actually reveals Childs' previously absent ability to make nearly any material simultaneously funny and genuine.
Childs inexplicably omits her dance success in Getz's actor-ballets Suburban Love Songs and Disco Descending, finishing Scared with a refreshingly direct account of learning life lessons from her daughter's plunge into dance classes. What the 42-year-old gleans from her 7-year-old gives Scared a transcendently honest ending.
Why couldn't the entire play be like those glorious last minutes? Perhaps the most difficult character to play is one's self.
Through Oct. 31, $26-$35, Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., 215-592-9560, 1812productions.org.