Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nathan Lane Shines in "The Nance"

I'd known little of Douglas Carter Beane's play The Nance other than its premise, so wasn't sure quite what to expect. I expected it to be funny, and it was, but what I wasn't expecting it to be was thought provoking, gut wrenching and infinitely touching.

As comic Chauncey Miles, Nathan Lane gives one of his finest performances I've yet seen from him as a character both complex and complicated, adding nuance, dimension and revealing the carefully hidden heart of this tortured, self-destructive character.

In his play with music by Glenn Kelly, Beane nearly seamlessly weaves together the secret, pre-Stonewall and dangerous world of gays of the 1930's with the end of the burlesque era resulting in a wondrous tapestry evoking a unique ethos that, despite all the positive
changes in the world made since, still resounds loudly today.

Wedged into the very heart of "The Nance" is a romance between hard bitten Chauncey and the earnest, brand-new-to-New York, Ned (a marvelous Broadway debut by Jonny Orsini) who truly appears to have just fallen off the turnip truck. Despite its predictable outcome,
the unlikely romance adds a much needed tenderness that makes the plays crusty outer layers snap and pop all the more.

As the three burlesque queens, Cadi Huffmann, Andrea Burns and Jenny Barber, give Mazeppa, Electra and Tessi Tura a run for their money, a little raunchier, a little more broken and a little more real. They're wonderful.

Lewis J. Stadlen's aging "seen it all" clown offers some masterful acting, desperately clinging to the world crumbling around him, and doing anything to prevent letting go.

Having the luxury of hindsight, Beane is able to offer up some timely, hilarious lines. A rabid Republican, despite being homosexual, Chauncey forever seizes opportunities to rage against socialism, at one point complaining about Social Security prompting one of the
characters to say, "Trust me, in 80 years no one's gonna be worrying about who's gonna pay for Social Security" or comparing Chauncey's Republicanism to "a negro joining the Klan . . . or the League of Jewish Nazi Voters."

Jack O'Brien's production is sensational, featuring John Lee Beatty's rotating stage instantly moving the scenes from the Horn and Hardart, the stage of the theatre, Chauncey and Ned's apartment, and the theatre's backstage. The set is employed brilliantly throughout, right through the final curtain.

PBS has put it up on its web site and I recommend anyone who missed it Friday night, try and catch this.

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