Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Nance
American Conservatory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Life Is a Dream and Monstress

Nathanael Card and P.A. Cooley
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the regional premiere of Douglas Carter Bean's The Nance starring P.A. Cooley as Chauncey. This is one of the best productions I have seen all year and P.A. Cooley is magnificent in the role. I had seen Nathan Lane perform the role on the PBS airing of the Broadway production but Mr. Cooley, who has been away from the stage for a year, makes the role his own.

The dictionary describes a nance as "an effeminate or homosexual man" in the world of 1930s burlesque. He was a stereotypically camp homosexual usually played by a straight performer. However, in this play Chancey Miles is a homosexual picking up tricks from such places as the automat near Times Square or the bushes in various parks.

Douglas Carter Bean has written a really stimulating, rich, and satisfying play. His instinct for jocularity delivered by Chauncey is full of sting. Here is a disconsolate man in 1939 New York when society frowned on homosexuality, and it's dangerous being gay. The police are starting to break up places where gays meet, since it is the start of the World's Fair of 1939 and tourists will be visiting the city in droves. To make matters worse, Chauncey's hero, Mayor LaGuardia, has begun a crackdown on stage indecency, under the narrow-minded eye of city commissioner of licenses Paul Moss and they are targeting people like Chauncey, who plays a nance at the Irving Place Burlesque house.

Bean has also inserted brilliant and priceless burlesque scenes with P.A. Cooley and straight man and fall guy Efram, played beautifully by Brian Herndon. I remember being in high school and sneaking into a burlesque house in Dayton, Ohio, and hearing great campy lines, like the ones P.A. Cooley delivers as Chancey. For example: "I'm usually more comfortable with a hymn," he lisps in a church sketch "What? What? I like to play with the organ. What? What? I love love love when the organ swells. Oh you brutes!" This brought back a lot of memories.

P.A. Cooley is outstanding in the role of Chauncey. He is pitch perfect as the sad clown and his original way of saying something droll and rejecting it with a grimace is fantastic. Brian Herndon rocks as Efram in the burlesque scenes and he beautifully overacts in each and every one of them, especially when he plays Dr. Frankenstein in a monster sketch.

Chicago transplant Nathaniel Card is Ned, Chauncey's live-in lover, and is excellent in the role of a person who never uses a curse word but goes along simply saying "apple sauce" instead.

Courtney Hatcher, Mia Romero, and Shay Oglesby-Smith are splendid as the house strippers. They perform puerile bump-and-grind routines by Rory Davis, with musical composition and direction by Scrumbly Koldewyn. Shay Oglesby-Smith is wonderfully feisty as the "Bolshevik sister" a dedicated social activist who says great zingers like "Being a homosexual Republican is like being a black member of the Ku Klux Klan." Marco Simental in a small role as the stagehand is effective in the role.

Set design by Kuo-Hao Lois shows the marvelous detailed living quarters of Chauncey. It also transfers to a stage at the burlesques theatre and a restaurant scene at the automat. Jorge Hernandez' costumes include authentic '30s outfits for the girls. Director Dennis Lickteig is sharp and incisive. He is able to focus on both Chauncey's upbeat burlesque and his hidden heartbreak when he tries to get serious with his offstage love Ned.

The Nance runs through November 1, 2015, at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit Coming up next on the main stage is The Kid Thing opening on November 6 and running through December 13th.

Photo: Lois Tema

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