by Sandi Durell
If you’re itching to know what it was like for the talented Douglas Carter Beane growing up in Reading, Pa (set in the early 1970s), “Shows for Days” (directed by Jerry Zaks) is that fictionalized, satirized vehicle. A peek into the world of community theater and all its stereotypical drama queens – some of whom you will adore, others abhor.
Mr. Beane and his cohorts live at the Prometheus Community Theater, a place filled with the bric-a-brac of backstage memories of costumes, gaff tape, tables and chairs (the set by John Lee Beatty, lit by Natasha Katz), until the wrecking ball rears its noisy resound and diva in charge, Irene, the indomitable Patti LuPone (who we think is Jewish what with all the Jewish-isms but isn’t) – outfitted in a big ole curly wig, wearing flowing gold lame to red plaid skirt and stole (thank you William Ivey Long) – has to make other arrangements for her troupe of thespians.
This farce is in the spirit of The Nance and also stars the always adorable, can do all, energetic Michael Urie as Car, a 14 year old boy who wanders into the storefront theater to kill time waiting for a bus back to his boring suburban home, but winds up staying and narrates (as Beane) the unfolding story – growing up to be a playwright and discovering his homosexuality. He also does a lot of set schlepping! Irene grabs him up without a second thought giving him his first walk-on role as a butler and so it’s life upon the wicked stage for the impressionable young man.
The rest of the troupe is made up of Irene’s boyfriend Damien (Jordan Dean), who goes both ways helping Car loose his virginity, to the marvelous scene-stealer Dale Soules as Sid, the tough lesbian stage manager, the big ole campy show queen Clive (Lance Codie Williams) and the airhead ingénue Maria (Zoe Winters).
The 2 hours and 5 minutes are filled with sassy, sharp dialogue in Beane’s memory play, but we never get the chance to really see what goes on in community theater as the story moves along – perhaps some real rehearsals or actual scenic elements from some of the talked-about plays (Williams, Hemingway, Ionesco) – but instead becomes a strong vehicle for Ms. LuPone who eats up all those words and spits them out with her usual panache as the hard as nails, tricky diva who knows how to play a political game.
You’ll get some laughs, admire the talented actors and if you have some community theater background or are an insider, you’ll get some of the theater jokes, but in the end see that the story is missing a beat.
Lincoln Center Theatre, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater thru August 23rd.
Photos: Joan Marcus