“The Nance”, now in performance and a Chicago premiere by Pride Films and Plays at The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway through July 26th is a genuinely well-done if somewhat over-ambitious effort by playwright Douglas Carter Beane which received 5 Tony award nominations and 2 Tony’s for the 2013 Broadway production starring Nathan Lane.
The play is a multi-faceted approach at illuminating the disparate dual identities of a 1930’s performer portraying “a nance”, or deliberately effeminate gay stereotyped character in the dying days of burlesque while struggling with his true offstage love for another man. It’s not just Chauncey- played in larger than life fashion by Vince Kracht – whose inner and outer life is complicated. The performance is also slightly hampered by the stock theatrics used to try and encompass all of these aspects of tormented sexuality. Sometimes the melding of socio-political commentary with personal storytelling becomes a tad ungainly, but on the whole this is a sad, clever and meaningful portrayal of a torn and persecuted way of life.
Deftly directed by John Nasca, who also designed the adorable 30’s costumes, the show blooms with well-crafted music direction by Robert Ollis, versatile lighting by G. Maxin IV, cheery, clever choreography by Nathan Mittleman and a really fun set including the fictitious Irving Place Theater, designed by Jeremy Hollis, behind which the live musicians perform great jazzy tunes. On the night this reviewer attended, the musicians were Robert Ollis, conductor and pianist; Lara Ochoa Regan on saxophones and clarinet; Sean O’Donnell on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Tony Scandora on percussion.
This is a re-creation of lives blighted by personae in hiding and a sensitive and ingenious explication of thwarted love alleviated by satire. Real-life scenes alternate with burlesque-act interludes to vary eloquent tragedy and broad/bitter comedy. If the lines between the two sometimes become hard to discern for the audience, think how much more fraught the dilemma was for real people back in the none-too-distant day!
Royen Kent as Ned, Chauncey’s unlikely lover (and later his sometime colleague) gives a heartfelt portrayal as a man struggling with forces beyond his control. Having said that, the opening scene where the men meet and their early love scenes are appropriately shy, tender, and very moving. As the ominous behind-the-scenes story of New York mayor LaGuardia’s crackdown on “indecency” looms closer and closer to our characters, they literally appear to be dancing as fast as they can in a madcap outpouring of gags.
The penultimate soliloquy by Kracht as Chauncey, dressed in faultlessly decadent drag, stands in poignant counterpoint to the masterful performances by tough-ladies/strippers Britt-Marie Sivertsen as Joan, Steph Vondell as Carmen, and Melissa Young as Sylvie, all of whom ham it up uproariously while reflecting with rue on the politics of the day/non-existent wages of their work. Finally, Patrick Rybarczyk as emcee/ comic Efram gives a stellar performance as the worldly-wise old buddy running the show.
While the many and varied subjects of this work are a bit too complex for the time allotted, it still felt like it could’ve been cut half an hour. One wished, also, that we didn’t have to hear the song “Meet you on the Corner”, a signature/symbol for clandestine trysts, sung so loudly quite so many times. However, this was, in all, a joyful and engrossing production loaded with social significance and fine acting, and it’s recommended.
All photos by Paul Goyette
For information and tickets to all the fine productions by Pride Films and Plays, go to www.pridefilmsandplays.com