Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Although the stereotypically effeminate man, or nance, was a stock comic character in 1930s burlesque, the character was never overtly acknowledged as gay, and was typically performed by an actor perceived to be straight. The twist in Beane's play is that the nance is played by a gay man, Chauncey Miles (named after historian George Chauncey, the author of "Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940"). As Chauncey observes, its "like a Negro doing blackface."
In his onstage persona, Chauncey is mischievous and flamboyant, a master of the risqué double-entendre. Offstage, he must remain deeply closeted to avoid arrest for deviance; a proud Republican, his sex life consists of clandestine and anonymous couplings arranged through coded encounters at a local automatthe gay hot spot of the moment, at least until the local constabulary catches on.
On the surface, Chauncey is content with his undercover existence; he claims to enjoy the thrill of living in constant danger. His endless capacity for denial becomes apparent, however, when he ignores clear signs that the state is determined to abolish both his livelihood and his chance for real love. This will all just go away after the election, he declares. His willful blindness is understandable; even Paul Moss, the designated enforcer of the mayors morals code, is a lifelong bachelor known for his dapper dress.
Under David Ament's direction, the Las Vegas Little Theatre production is capable if somewhat slow moving. The success of any staging of The Nance depends heavily on the actor playing Chauncey, the character originated by Nathan Lane. Here, David Morey is only partly successful. When we first encounter Chauncey, we should mistake his superficial wit and sophistication for contentment; his misery and self-delusion should sneak up on us gradually. However, Morey telegraphs Chauncey's dark side from the moment he appears. He speaks his lines with painstaking deliberation and arched eyebrows. While the character feels real enough, his inner torment is too close to the surface. Morey is more impressive in act two, when Chauncey's personal and professional worlds are collapsing around him; his final moment of self-sacrifice is powerful. But the character's moral journey seems foreshortened.
Slow pacing is a problem through much of the play. It even afflicts the comedy sketches. Since burlesque humor is embarrassingly bad, timing is crucial. Funny and fast should be the order of the day. But here the ponderous pace of the sketches saps their humor. The infamous "Slowly I turned ..." routine was never meant to be taken literally.
The pace picks up whenever the strippers hit the stage. They are a sparkling trio, especially the ebullient Gabriella Giocomo as Sylvie, a red-headed Catholic Communist union-card-carrying precursor of Rosie the Riveter, who wears a g-string on stage but high-waisted Kate Hepburn trousers in the off-hours. Ashley Rapuano as Carmen and Anita Bean as Joan are impressive as well. Perhaps it is the musical accompaniment that keeps these actresses stepping lively. Yet they bring equal energy to their comic sketches and their offstage scenes with Chauncey.
Joseph BenShimon is engaging and sympathetic as Ned, the young man who offers the jaded Chauncey a glimpse of domestic bliss. Unfortunately, we never feel the chemistry between Ned and Chauncey; although their mutual attraction may be inexplicable, it should be palpable.
Set designer Ron Lindblom does wonders with a limited budget. A simple projection gives the automat an authentic feel, and the Asian fusion decor lends an ironic touch to Chauncey's basement apartment. Rose Scarborough's costumes are nicely conceived and period-appropriate.
The Nance continues through November 6, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2pm, and Saturday, October 29 at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatres Main Stage, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89103. For tickets ($24 adults; $21 seniors and students) or further information, go to www.lvlt.org or call (702) 362-7996. Adult language and situations; under 18 not admitted.