THE NANCE at NCTC would earn an Obie Award in NYC.
THE NANCE: Seriocomedy by Douglas Carter Beane, directed by Dennis Lickteig. Composer/Musical direction by Scrumbly Koldewyn, and choreography by Rory Davis. New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC), Decker Theater, 25 Van Ness Ave @Market, San Francisco, CA. 415-861-8972 or email@example.com. October 2- November 1, 2015.
THE NANCE at NCTC would earn an Obie Award in NYC. Rating: &1/2
Among the multitude small venue theatres in San Francisco the New Conservatory Theatre Center has most consistently produced first-rate shows. Their present production of The Nance is one of their best. They have wisely brought back P. A. Cooley for the lead role and surrounded him with a top-notch cast that is an epitome of ensemble acting. On Broadway in 2013 the play was a vehicle for Nathan Lane and at NCTC the same can be said for P.A. Cooley.
In the past P. A. Cooley was known as a superb performer in over-the-top effeminate roles and earned his stripes as a serious actor when he played the character Buzz in Love! Valor! Compassion! at Berkeley Rep (as a standby) and in the extended run at NCTC. Apparently, not wanting to be type cast, he has been on hiatus from the stage for a few years. His return and his acting as the “nance’ verifies his acting versatility.
The role of Chauncey, the nance, requires versatility because of the complexity of the character and the construction of play. The time is the late 1930s when burlesque was still poplar but was being replaced by movies. The place is New York City in the reign of Fiorello La Guardia who was attempting to ‘clean up’ the city before the upcoming 1939 World’s Fair. In burlesque there was often a stock effeminate character called the ‘nance’ that was usually played by a straight man. The nance of this Douglas Carter Beane play is effeminate gay Chauncey whose acts has attracted mostly gay audiences who often went to the balcony for ‘fun-n-games.”
Act one deftly sets up the premise and defines the characters that include theater manager/lead actor Efram (Brian Herndon), song/dance girls Sylvia (Shay Oglesby-Smith), Joan (Courtney Hatcher), Carmen (Mia Romero). Chauncey’s love/sex interest Ned (Nathaniel Card) is introduced in the opening scene that takes place in an Automat (sets by Kuo-Hai Lo) that is notorious as a place to pick up ‘hustler/tricks.’ In a pivotal unseen role is, City License Commissioner Paul Moss who imposes a crackdown on indecency and is often baited by Chauncey from the stage and in act two from the witness chair in court. P.A. Cooley’s delivery changes smoothly between these scenes and is further developed in his complicate relationship with Ned and members of his cast.
Act one is a masterpiece of construction with the scenes shifting between the Automat, Chauncey’s flat and back stage of the Irving Theater. Between the scene changes Efram, Chauncey and the girls perform hilarious stock burlesque vignettes that are a joy to watch. For the NCTC staging the (in)famous former Cockette Scrumbly Koldwyn has composed the music and Rory Davis mounted the dancing that add more than a touch of splash to the evening.
For act two there are definite changes in the tenure of the action as Beane places emphasis on the political/social problems of gays and the attempt of the theatrical people to form Unions. The play becomes reminiscent of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty. That is not necessarily faulty but definitely is superficial.
The actors individually have highlight moments with each of the ‘girls’ being classy and naughty as they strut their stuff to “meet you ‘round the corner.” Mia Romero’s “Carmen del Rio” is memorable and is matched by Courtney Hatcher’s antics in multiple scenes. Shay Oglesby-Smith’s underscores her role as a Union organizer stating she has “a vagina and a Communist card membership.” Brian Herndon’s frustration is palpable as he loses control of Chauncey and attempts to keep the group together.
It is love/sex relationship between Ned and Chauncey that drives the inevitable pathos beginning with the initial encounter at the automat, to the eventual bonding as they become roommates and the eventual split. Handsome Nathaniel Card’s change from the out-of-town hustler, to willing sex partner, to accidently becoming an on-stage actor and a devoted partner are subtle and believable.
All in all, as much as this is P.A. Cooley’s shining return to the stage he has to share the accolades with his great cast, excellent direction and support by the artistic staff. Running time is two hours and 10 minutes with and intermission.
Reccommendation : A must see production.
CAST: P.A. Cooley, Chauncey; Brian Herndon, Efram; Nathaniel Card, Ned; Courtney Hatcher, Joan; Shay Oglesby-Smith, Sylvia; Mia Romero, Carmen; Marco Simental, Stagehand/Policeman.
CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic Design by Kuo Hao Lo, Composer and Musical Direction by Scrumbly Loldwyn, Choreography by Rory Davis, Costume Design by Jorge R. Hernandez, Lighting Design by Christian V. Mejia, Sound Design by James Ard, Prop Design by Daniel Yellen, Stage Manager Emilio Racinez.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.
Performers at a 1930s burlesque hall steal a moment to unwind amidst political pressure to close down(Brian Herdon, Courtney Hatcher, P.A. Cooley, Nathaniel Card, Mia Romero, Shay Oglesby-Smith). Photo by Lois Tema.