Douglas Carter Beane’s new Broadway play “The Nance” opens with the fabulous 2-time Tony Award winner Nathan Lane sitting in a NYC automat reading a newspaper, hungrily waiting to pick up something. And I don’t mean a bagel.
In 1930’s NYC, gay men didn’t have the luxury of bars, parades, or Match.com to meet other men, so it was done in an underground kind of way…at an automat, over coffee. Even coffee was risky business, and caution had to be used or the fellas would end up in jail. So sets the stage.
Directed by 3-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, “The Nance” is the story of Chauncey Miles (Nathan Lane), a gay burlesque star in The Big Apple circa 1930‘s, who plays just that on stage: a flamboyant caricature of a gay man, commonly called a “nance”. Peeling the skin a bit deeper, it’s also the story of forbidden love and heartbreak.
Chauncey meets his younger counterpart, Ned (Jonny Orsini), in the automat, and the secret love affair blossoms. The relationship is destined to fail from the start, as Chauncey is struggling with both being comfortable within his own skin and dealing with the frustration of society’s intolerance…shall we go as far as to say hypocrisy?…towards homosexuality. While scantily clad women in pasties and G-strings were commonplace and acceptable onstage, playing a homosexual man most certainly was not…much less being a homosexual man. When NYC starts cracking down on burlesque halls, particularly the ones featuring effeminate men, Chauncey’s private and public life become exposed and scrutinized.
Many of the men that played nances during that time were actually straight men…making Chauncey’s position all the more delicate. Chauncey makes the observation that a gay man portraying a gay man on stage is “kind of like a Negro doing blackface”…which makes him sometimes sick to his stomach.
Before you go grabbing your box of tissues, it’s important to note that the show isn’t all heartache. There were several burlesque-esque inspired numbers inserted between the more serious scenes, lightening things up with quirky routines and tag lines, including, “meet-ya-round-the-corner-in-a-half-an-hour” and my favorite, “hi simply hi!”
I’ll leave you with the words of Chauncey, “I tell you it’d all be so tragic if it weren’t so comical.” It’s a solid show…an important show…a show that will make you leave the theater grateful for how far we’ve come as a society over the last 70+ years.
WHERE: The Nance, playing at the Lyceum Theatre 149 West 45th Street New York, New York 10036
By: Jessica Tiare Bowen