“The Nance” is a different kind of
visit to the Automat. Nathan Lane is a
fine actor and comedian whose role as Chauncey, a sad clown, is tailor-made for
him. Written by Douglas Carter Beane, a prolific writer of straight plays and
musicals and directed by Jack O’Brien, this tough story is history-based. A “nance” was a lead performer in burlesque
shows, who was privately homosexual, but did not dare display this lifestyle
publicly. Homosexuality was against the law in those days. The play takes place
in 1937 at the Irving Place Theatre with other spots taking place in an automat
(which brought sighs of nostalgia from the audience), a courthouse, and
Chauncey’s apartment, all well-designed by John Lee Beatty and exceptionally
lit by Japhy Weideman.
It opens in the shadowy automat,
where Chauncey carefully, secretly picks up Ned, a young naïve man, the
pleasant Jonny Orsini. In a minute, they are lovers, intimately involved. The action moves to the theater where
Chauncey performs with his sidekick, Efram, a part played by Lewis J. Stadlen,
who delivers double entendres and parlays corny comebacks with panache.
Costumed by Ann Roth, there are three girls in skimpy outfits and pasties, who
are part of the burlesque show, and Rose, the Wardrobe Mistress (Mylinda
Hull). When Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia
banned burlesque (a fact I learned here), the show had to move to Newark.
Chauncey, a character, who was a staunch Republican, could not and did not
choose to keep one relationship going and parts from Ned, who wanted more and loved him.
Ending on a sad note, and though Lane is dazzling in the role and the
writing is the playwright’s best, this is for adults and may not be everyone’s
cup of tea. “The Nance” at the Lyceum