Sorry Douglas Carter Beane, but I Dislike The Nance

Uh-oh, I think I have hit my wall with Douglas Carter Beane...

Not that I ever found his work entirely infallible, but he always got some extra recognition from me for writing books filled with hilarious one-liners and sly social commentary, both of which lending itself to feeling modern. When his revised book of Cinderella took some heat earlier this Spring, I took to his corner (pun not intended) because I thought it was, overall, still very strong in light of a few minor criticisms.

But now, DCB's new play, The Nance, playing at the Lyceum Theater, is a huge misfire and undoubtedly, his weakest one yet (and that is saying something considering he wrote the book for Sister Act). The wonderful premise - a budding partnership/romance between an experienced burlesque performer and a homeless, sexuality-questioning out-of-towner in New York circa the 1930's - is squandered as the show veers back and forth between attempts at gritty period drama (what the show should have been), an over-the-top burlesque show (what the show should have mitigated given that those individual scenes felt like under-delivering duds) and an examination of gay culture and relationships for that not-so-LGBTQ friendly-era (which also failed considering Jonny Orsini, one of the love interests, has the presence and energy of a tree).

Classic theater mistake. By attempting to incorporate and unify a run-through of these three storylines, the show falls flat on its head and fails to get one aspect right, let alone three. And I really don't understand why the burlesque scenes in particular were such a let-down. It felt like they were deliberately bad just to be simple-minded and period-accurate...you know, The Three Stooges was hilarious for its day and age, but now, it is not as funny by 21st Century standards. Well, newsflash...burlesque, I imagine, was still fun and exciting in any era. The least the show could have done was put some effort into those nails-on-a-chalkboard skits.

And as far as Nathan Lane...well, try as he might, he can't save the production and to be completely honest, his character Chauncey Miles, the quick-witted, mysterious, dramatic performer-type, doesn't exactly obscure the fact that it is Nathan Lane in the flesh. That is not to take away from the fact that he is very charismatic and nuanced - he truly is the best part of the show, especially when he serves up internal dramz in the second act leading up to a striking last few seconds as the curtain dropped. But c'mon...he could have been completely narcoleptic and still churned out a half decent performance.

The set and costumes, courtesy of John Lee Beatty and Ann Roth respectively, lend itself to an engrossing mood and the setting of the 1930's. And Jack O'Brien's direction makes the most of what he is working with, revolving set pieces and all. But all of that is too little, too late in light of DCB's book never maximizing its full potential and going so far as to fall apart, only for Lane to haul ass and keep it together.

It's okay Mr. Beane; I still love your work, but you were having an off show here. Thankfully, Cinderella is delighting audiences everywhere and I still have the fondest of memories of seeing Lysistrata Jones twice during its, like, days-long run. Have a drink or thirteen, hit up the drawing board and come back even stronger next year...I'm looking forward to it.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

1 comment:

theszak said...

What anthologies/books/collections/magazines have a part, a preliminary part or excerpt from The Nance by Douglas Carter Beane?...