Yesterday, I went to the Subversive Theatre to see the WNY premiere of “The Nance” by Tony Award nominee, Douglas Carter Beane . The play includes songs by Glen Kelly. “The Nance” is a dark comedy/drama which takes place in New York City in the 1930’s. It’s about homophobia and the terrible toll it takes on both professional and personal lives.
. . .fine performances by Mr. Standart and Mr. Seitz . . .
The script, which is peppered with amusing 1930’s show business zingers, is sprawling – taking us onstage, backstage, and into the lives of the leading characters. It also includes political and social justice references that are relevant today, such as union issues, socialism, government censorship, and the hypocrisy of most homophobes.
The “nance” of the play’s title refers to a campy stock character in vaudeville and burlesque shows. Ed Wynn comes to mind – the innocent whose unwitting double entendres are the source of much humor. In later days, Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares carried on this tradition.
Here the nance is Chauncey, a middle aged gay man who, because of his intimacy problems and the repressive social conventions of the time, is more comfortable with the anonymous chase than with true love. Chauncey, given to artifact and flowery speech, meets a simple, earnest, down-to-earth young man, Ned, and their relationship is the heart and soul of the play.
Christopher Standart as Chauncey and Michael Seitz as Ned give stunning performances. All their scenes together are nuanced, multi layered, thoughtful, and top quality. Their fight scene is electric and easily the highpoint of the production.
The rest of the cast are the stage hands and performers at the burlesque house where Chauncey performs. These include a bevy of beautiful strippers led by the lovely Becky Globus. Their choreography, by Monica Karwan, is cute and danced with enthusiasm by the young ladies, but it ultimately slows down the proceedings and takes focus from the Chauncey/Ned story. Some of their musical numbers are in the script to lend atmosphere and one of them, “Burst My Bubble,” well sung by Karen Harty in the Sally Rand tradition, is amusing. I’m wondering, however, if some of the other numbers were added to this production. If so, I would suggest paring them down. At three hours, the evening feels overlong and, especially in Act 2 when the Chauncey/Ned story is so captivating, it’s distracting to take time out for dance numbers or prolonged set changes involving the whole cast and choreography. What was a clever idea becomes too much of a good thing after a while.
There is a striking difference is the direction of the offstage scenes vs. the onstage scenes. The direction by Kurt Schneiderman for the Chauncey/Ned scenes is spot on. My only question would be if the brief nudity was absolutely necessary. The burlesque show scenes, however, are uneven. Stylistically, some of them (the judge’s scene) are performed in the correct burlesque tradition while others (i.e. Niagara Falls) miss the mark.
Live music adds much to the proceedings with Stacey Norred and Arrow Fitzgibbon covering five different instruments.
The show is lit effectively. I don’t know who to give credit to this for because the lighting designer’s name wasn’t in the program. The impressively huge collection of colorful period costumes are by Karen Harty. The compact set, which is surprisingly full and complicated for such an intimate space, is by Christopher Wilson, Dan Toner, and Michael Doben. Sound design is also well done and rather complicated, but, again, no one is given credit for this in the program.
“The Nance” has fine performances by Mr. Standart and Mr. Seitz and it’s terrific that the Subversive has brought this quirky and ambitious play to WNY. With some prodigious cuts and a brighter pace, this would be a top notch production.
Running Time: 3 hours, including a 10 minute intermission.
Advisory: Some Nudity
“The Nance” runs until March 24, 2018 and is presented at the Subversive Theatre Collective. For more information, click here.