"Courting Chris"

Through Sept. 12

Church Street Theatre

Tickets: 202/546-7410

Back in college in Springfield, Ohio, Jeff Keenan needed three physical education credits to graduate. "Rather than strain myself too much," he says, "I took billiards, bowling and social dance."

It's a good thing, too. Otherwise we wouldn't have that nice opening image in Sam Schwartz Jr.'s "Courting Chris" where director Keenan has each of the four actors waltzing dreamily around the stage, arms raised and empty. (Pictured above, from left, Christina Anderson, Peter Finnegan, Jason Gilbert and Carlos Bustamante.) Or the closing, with the two now-romantically linked pairs happily chugging through the merengue and the salsa.

"Dancing is a fabulous metaphor for life in general, especially dating," Keenan says. "There are as many different styles of dance as there are people to date and means to date them."

Dating is the theme of this lighthearted comedy -- socially awkward Sean (Finnegan) wants to go out with Chris (Anderson) but needs mutual friend Ben (Gilbert) to feed him the right words through an electronic earpiece. Likewise, when Ben, who's gay, meets a buddy of Sean's -- a fellow also named Chris (Bustamante) -- it's only with Sean's voice in his ear that he has the nerve to woo him.

Dancing plays a key part in one of the funniest scenes, where Sean is at Chris's apartment, successfully making small talk thanks to Ben, who is hiding behind a screen. Successful, that is, until Chris puts on a Donna Summer CD that sends Ben into blissful gyrations, leaving Sean decidedly ungrooved.

It was Keenan's idea to have Gilbert become completely overtaken by the music, but the moves are Gilbert's own. "That's all me," says the actor. "I'm not a huge Donna Summer fan, but it's a lot of fun."

Words and movement mesh seamlessly in this performance -- in no small part due to the offstage camaraderie among Gilbert, Anderson and Finnegan. Like Keenan, they also picked up a thing or two in college. They're all old friends from North Carolina's Appalachian State University.