The Nance at Pride Arts Center
Evoking an Era of Burlesque
By: Nancy Bishop - Jul 28, 2017
The play opens with a bubbly Sylvie (Melissa Young) singing and dancing to “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” on the stage of an old
Douglas Carter Beane’s play, now on stage at Pride Films and Plays, is the story of Chauncey Miles (Vince Kracht), a gay man who plays an effeminate man on stage (the “nance act”), which was acceptable in the 1930s, while actual homosexual behavior was outlawed. (It remained illegal here until 1962, when Illinois repealed its sodomy law, and during the 1970s and later in other states.* Some states still criminalize homosexual acts.)
Once the nance act becomes risky because of the attention of the city’s licensing commissioner, there is another way for Chauncey to perform, as one of his colleagues says. “Oh, but get this – he can do a drag bit. ‘ Cause drag ain’t deviant, it’s ‘masquerade.’” (Both Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and license commissioner Paul Moss get shout-outs in The Nance. LaGuardia shut down the burlesque houses for a brief time in 1937, upon Moss’ recommendation. And the dancers report that Helen Hayes speaks against censorship at a protest rally.)
The burlesque acts at the Irving Place Theatre make up almost half of The Nance, which is riproaringly directed by John Nasca. You’ll see a feathery fan dance by Joan (Britt-Marie Sivertsen) and other songs, dances and modest strip routines by Sylvie and Carmen (Steph Vondell). The women’s costumes are colorful and sparkly—and designed by Nasca, doing double duty as costume designer.
Efram (Patrick Rybarczyk) is the First Banana of the burlesque show. He and Chauncey riff off of each other in the comedy numbers that bracket the dance acts.
The play’s story line is about Chauncey’s career problems plus his romantic relationship with young Ned (charmingly played by Royen
Nasca’s direction keeps things moving briskly; the 2.5 hour play rarely drags. Scenic design by Jeremy Hollis outfits Pride’s stage as the theater and Chauncey’s apartment with the movement of a few furniture pieces and a projection screen above the stage, which identifies the location or the song being performed by the burlesque cast. Live music, directed by Robert Ollis, enhances the burlesque mood.
The Nance by Pride Films & Plays continues at the
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Reposted courtesy of Nancy Bishop and Third Coast Review.