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At Subversive, THE NANCE audience needs to mentally duct tape the plots and politics into a coherent whole

THE BASICS: THE NANCE, a 2013 play by Douglas Carter Beane (with incidental music) presented by Subversive Theatre, directed by Kurt Schneiderman, stars Christopher Standart and Michael Seitz fronting a cast of ten, and runs only two more times, through Saturday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave., third floor (elevator service is available) (462-5549). No snacks. $1.00 bottled water Runtime: almost three hours with one 15-minute intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Set in 1937 New York City, during the burlesque era when, in between strip teases, a popular diversion was “the nance” or “a nance act” featuring an effeminate comedian (here “Chauncey Miles”) amusing an audience with homosexual double-entendres. As the play bounces back and forth between on-stage and back-stage scenes involving strippers and comedians at the Irving Place Theater we also frequently cut to Chauncey’s life away from the theater, starting with his pick-up of the homeless Ned at an automat popular with gay men. As the play continues, we learn that the political authorities are hell-bent on “cleaning up” the city by closing burlesque houses in general and arresting gay men in particular.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: If you are hoping for another CABARET (theater people on the edge of bourgeois society being hounded by the authorities) or another LES MIS (the good hearted poor being hounded by the authorities) or even another SPRING AWAKENING (sexually curious youth being hounded by late 19th German burghers) this ain’t those musicals. CABARET, LES MIS, and SPRING AWAKENING have better music and better structure, although honestly, each of them is also a can-of-worms trying to put too many story lines, themes, and points of view on stage.

And so it is in THE NANCE where we can see old lefty Kurt Schneiderman, the director, licking his chops at the thought of presenting all of these topics: sexy burlesque vs. “wholesome” entertainment, sexual freedom vs. repression, gay vs. straight, cruising vs. monogamy, Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Liberal vs. Communist, Capitalists vs. Labor, Censorship vs. Free Speech, Police vs. people just trying to live their lives. All standard fare for Subversive Theater along with the standard tropes/memes/and clichés of theater – falling in love, ageing, that rough and tumble gang of poor but good hearted folks, that old gang of mine, let’s take to the streets, let’s retreat to fight another day, you’re not the boss of me, I’ll show you, someday I’ll be a star, etc. Whew! And that’s some of what’s going on. My friend Susan from the South used to call such a mélange of disparate things “a dog’s breakfast.”

Now, you might say: ‘Well, if you’d seen the great Nathan Lane in the title role, that might have made things clearer.’ Uh…. Not!

Now, you might say: “Well, if you’d seen the great Nathan Lane in the title role, that might have made things clearer.” Uh…. Not! In fact, in April, 2013, the great Ben Brantley in his The New York Times review of THE NANCE starring Nathan Lane as Chauncey (the “nance”) wrote: “…even Mr. Lane can’t reconcile all the disparities Mr. Beane’s script asks him to weave together. By the show’s end, Chauncey has become both an eloquent hero in the fight against censorship and a crusty defender of the status quo, a figure of illuminating self-awareness and benighted denial. It is to Mr. Lane’s credit that he displays no signs of whiplash, but his audience may not be similarly immune.”

Now, to be fair, there are only two major through-lines: In one, Chauncey takes in Ned, they fall in love, complications ensue. In the other, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia brings the forces of oppression to bear on the gay community. However, the show is entirely too busy and as a result, while the play is announced as taking two hours, in fact it was almost three (and with the late start and long intermission, we were in our seats for 3 hours and 30 minutes). Some of the dancing could have been cut along with the not-so-funny routines.

Can Subversive do musicals? Yes. Last year they won two Artie Awards for URINETOWN. But this project really strained their resources, was delayed a week for illness, and simply had too many moving parts.

UP NEXT: THE FULL MONTY (April 12 – May 12, 2018) starring Anthony Alcocer (last year’s Artie Award Winner for Outstanding Actor in THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT currently appearing as Judas in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR). Then, Kelly M. Beuth directs SLUT (about our current shame culture) starring emerging student actresses from Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (whose RADIUM GIRLS last year was a stellar production). SLUT runs June 21 – July 7, 2018.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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