The Nance – Sadness & Spirit

 

The NanceLyceum Theatre

by: Sandi Durell

It was the 1930s, a time when vaudeville and burlesque were the entertainment of the day, a time when a “nance” – an effeminate acting, campy man (gay or straight) was regular amusement on the bill. It was also a time when gay-homosexual men were being rounded up and beaten because the laws were anything but friendly.

It was the 1930s, a time when vaudeville and burlesque were the entertainment of the day, a time when a “nance” – an effeminate acting, campy man (gay or straight) was regular amusement on the bill. It was also a time when gay-homosexual men were being rounded up and beaten because the laws were anything but friendly.

Douglas Carter Bean’s importantly serious but very humorous play at the Lyceum Theatre (A Lincoln Center Theater production), was written with Nathan Lane in mind for the role of Chauncey Miles, a middle aged gay man whose speak is more than abundant with double entendres and whose sexual desires outweigh his ability for permanent involvement. We see Chauncey playing the game of gay men of the 30’s in a Greenwich Village Horn & Hardart Automat known as a pick up location – – carefully, cautiously so as not to alert the wrong people. When he meets Ned (Jonny Orsini) a homeless, dirty and hungry (in more ways than one) young man, there is an immediate attraction to the much younger man as Chauncey offers him part of his sandwich. More than that, however, he invites Ned to come home with him and stay at his place. Their relationship develops as Ned and Chauncey become lovers and Ned joins the vaudeville show as a performer appearing with Miles on stage.

John Lee Beatty’s revolving set is perfectly envisioned as Miles’ basement apartment, the burlesque stage of the Irving Place Theatre and backstage with peek-a-boo glimpses to the stage.

The play talks politics as Miles defends the Republican Party and LaGuardia, deluding himself into believing they will help his cause and defend the plight of gays, while his strip-tease friend Sylvie (Cady Huffman) extols the virtues of the Communist Party to which she swears allegiance referring to Chauncey as “A pansy for a Republican . . .like a Negro clan member.”

The other cuties on stage are Carmen (Andrea Burns), a Latin hot tamale sexpot looking more than adorable wearing balloons, and Joan (Jenni Barber) a ditzy blond – all making up the T & A burlesque beauties of a dying era as they each repeat the mantra “meet ya round the corner in a ½ hour,” the tag line to their routines. They each extol their own comic virtues. The tassels, pasties and brevity of costumes are right out of the 30s era, appropriately created by Ann Roth.

Straight man, on and off the burlesque stage, Efram (Lewis J. Stadlen) is more than amusing as a friend and slapstick comic to Miles’ pansy routine. Efram has a lot of jokes to tell reminiscent of the days of Henny Youngman and you can’t help but giggle and laugh. Orsini is underplayed to a degree that brings a legitimate realism to Ned as someone who just wants to fill his soul with love and peace. He also gets a chance to display his well-toned body. Lane is comically divergent as a cover-up to the melancholy that fills his soul and turns in a magnificent performance.

However, the more serious intent and heartbreak come at the end, after Miles has pushed Ned out of his life, as he takes the stage in drag as Hortense, a worn out lady of the night, in a heartbreaking monologue.

“The Nance” has been skillfully directed by Jack O’Brien. It runs thru August 11th.

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