The Nance

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Nathan Lane Show

I wanted to love The Nance.  In this period drama, Nathan Lane plays Chauncey, a gay man who is part of a burlesque company during the late 1930s.  Chauncey is a “Nance,” a prancing, preening, fawning, walking gay stereotype.  Apparently Nance-like characters performed in burlesque shows during this time, while at the same time gay activity was prohibited and punished.  Sounds like an interesting and thought-provoking topic, right?

Nathan Lane is consistently amazing.  Even a poor vehicle (Hello, The Addams family!)  shines due to his tremendous talent and luster.  He had several noteworthy TV performances this year, including Cam and Mitch’s voluble friend Pepper on Modern Family and a staid bankruptcy administrator on The Good Wife.  And indeed, Nathan Lane’s performance is tremendous.  Both when “on stage” as the over-the-top Nance and when off-stage struggling with his homosexuality, Chauncey is magnetic.

However, The Nance doesn’t quite work.  It is interesting, well staged, and mostly well acted.  Jonny Orsini plays a young man who becomes Chauncey’s lover, and his performance is ho-hum, although we are treated to a full frontal nude scene!  There is a nice sense of ensemble both on and off-stage among the actors in the burlesque company.  But the second act is weak.  When conclusions falter it can be hard to figure out why, but I blame the script, which doesn’t successfully transition to the conclusion.  The Nance is good, not great, but I’ll take a good play with Nathan Lane over a great play without him.

Rating:  *** (out of ****)

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