Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

When She Danced

By Martin Sherman

When She Danced
When She Danced

Directed by Nick Bowling

At TimeLine Theatre

Funny, yet poignant glimpse of a diva is a terrific night at the theatre

TimeLine Theatre, under the leadership of PJ Powers and Nick Bowling, has emerged as the premiere Mid-sized Equity theatre company in Cchicago. Over the last year, they had hits like Nor Enough Air, The History Boys and All My Sons. They continue mounting excellent theatre with Martin Sherman’s 1990 When She Danced. This is a portrait of  an eccentric dancer, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)–a liberated independent woman credited as “the mother of modern dance.”


Set in Paris in 1923 on an exquisite set  (designed by Keith Pitts), we enter the bohemian life of international star Isadora Duncan (Jennifer Engstrom in a emotional wrenching performance). We see her lavish lifestyle complete with extensive sexual activity with her drunken Russian poet husband, Sergei Esenin. Isadora  is broke, has visa problems due to her pro-Communist speeches and is an aging dancer bent upon starting a dance school in Paris or  Italy.


With a mixture of high comedy and poignant drama, When She Danced becomes an intelligent glimpse into the world of an eccentric diva who lived life to its artistic and sensual fullest.  Playwright Martin Sherman uses a multi-lingual script to evoke both humor and pathos. French, Greek, Italian and Russian are spoken and translated here with expert accents and accurate pronunciations of each language.  Sprinkled throughout the play are heartfelt speeches vividly describing Isadora Duncan’s dances and her effect on the viewer. Duncan was a dance revolutionary figure who stretched the art form in new directions. She stunned the world with her art.


We meet Duncan’s associates all of which were deeply affected by her art and her charismatic persona. When She Danced is a clever, funny and provocative profile of a diva. The use of multi-languages served the work well. Patrick Mulvey, as Sergei Esenin, had long speeches and emotional rants spoken in Russian that were translated  by Miss Belzer (Janet Ulrich Brooks). Add Alejandro Cordoba’s fine piano work doing Chopin and his fine Greek accent and his excellent Italian as Duncan’s pianist friend, Eliopolos, whose tries to help Duncan get her school by charming the Italian diplomat Zavani (Mark Richard in fine Italian).

When She Danced is part drawing room comedy, part character profile with glimpses into the nature of creating art and a look at how art, and Duncan in particular, deeply touched so many lives.  Engstrom plays Duncan with her extreme mood swings, her lust and her craving for individuality expressed through movement nicely. Janet Ulrich Brooks is terrific as the shy Russian interpreter while Patrick Mulvey aptly captures the self-destructiveness of the poet Esenin.

When She Dancer is a most entertaining and cleverly written play that contains fine acting and smart staging. It is a different type of bio-drama/comedy.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

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