Theatre Reviews

“The Nance” at Arts West

Welcome to Manhattan in the 1930s. Despite the efforts of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, burlesque is big business in New York, and among its most popular forms is the nance. The main attractions of nance are the male performers who amuse the audience with their caricatures of homosexuals. Oh how audiences laughed at those campy gays. Yes clubs offering the nance also have sexy women performing, but it’s the guys playing gays who draw the audiences.

Most of the nance performers were straight, but in this production the nightclub’s nance, Chauncey Miles, is indeed gay, though that’s his deep secret. Richard Gray as Chauncey provides all the verve and brilliant showmanship Chauncey’s audiences expect, but below that jovial exterior is a sad man who can’t be himself except surreptitiously. Off stage he frequents places where quick and furtive liaisons are possible, and he tries to make himself believe that that’s a reasonable life. Gray is brilliant portraying the nance performing on stage and heartbreaking as the real man who society has deemed unacceptable.

Richard Gray as Chauncey Miles in The Nance. Photo by John McLellan.

When Ned, a needy young man enters his life (wonderfully played by Drew Highlands), there’s almost a chance of real happiness for Chauncey. Sadly, he lives in a world where that’s not to be.

Performing at the club with Chauncey is Efram. Jeff Steitzer excels inthe role. Sprightly and silly, he wows us with his verve, his costumes, and patter. And we learn that underneath the grease paint, he’s a compassionate individual.

The three excellent actresses, who dance, sing, strut, sashay, and perform for the club’s audiences (and, of course, us), are excellent in their routines. These buxom females bump and grind in low-cut satin dresses and back-seamed stockings held up by garter belts. Each of them (Ann Cornelius, Jasmine Jean Sims and Diana Cameron McQueen) is also quite moving as a caring friend of Chauncey.

Nance shows were wildly popular in an age when homosexuality was reviled. Arts West has masterfully recreated the ambiance of that era with its voyeurism. The theatre itself has been transformed into a nightclub. Strings of white lights hang from the rafters and form patterns on the walls. Cabaret tables (at which audience members can pay to sit) surround the two stages within the main stage where the performers dance and sing. The carpeting has a ’30s quality, and as the performers come and go, one is indeed thrust into a previous era.

Director Mathew Wright has done it again! He’s establishing a record of hit after hit at Arts West. This one is an especially powerful show that captures all our emotions. Funny? Oh indeed, it’s full of laughs and gaiety, but you may also find yourself wiping away a tear or two.

Through Nov. 19 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, http://www.artswest.org/theatre/buy-tickets.

“Burn This” Presented by theatre|twenty-two (T22) at 12th Ave. Arts

Anna (Carolyn Marie Monroe), the lithe and lovely dancer/choreographer is grief stricken. Robbie, her dance partner and housemate has been killed in a freaky boating accident. She’s heartbroken, too, that his family never knew the brilliant Robbie, Robbie the dancer/choreographer. The Robbie they knew was gay. That was sufficient.

Photo by Margaret Toomey

Her other housemate, gay Larry, played sensitively and with fine humor by Alex Garnett, is also devastated by this senseless death. He uses wry comments to conceal his grief. Clearly this downtown loft is a house of deeply felt but restrained mourning.

All restraint is lost, however, when Robbie’s cokehead brother, Pale, played by Tim Gouran, slams his way into the apartment and spews forth his rage. Of course he’s devastated by his brother’s death, but for him grief isn’t a quiet or contained emotion. He’s a madman, has the emotional control of a tiger in heat. He thrashes and crashes through the apartment. Inevitably, Anna’s straight boyfriend, Burton (Jason Sanford) has his encounter with the wild-eyed, half-mad Pale. The contrast between the two types (archetypical males) is one of the fascinating elements of the play.

Director Corey McDaniel knows how to get the best from his actors. All four masterfully deliver the marvelous dialog provided by playwright Lanford Wilson and bring a shattering physicality to each of their roles.

It all plays out on Margaret Toomey’s set that captures the essence of a downtown New York loft apartment. It has floor to ceiling windows made up of blocks of glass, some colored, some not; an open upper room, and the locks and padlocks that New Yorkers know they need.

By the way, when this play opened in New York in 1987, Steppenwolf’s John Malkovitch played Pale and its Joan Allen played Anna to rave reviews. This cast deserves similar praise.

Through Nov. 18 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., info@theatre22.org or 206-257-2203.

“The Government Inspector” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

If you love farce, you are going to love this classy production of “The Government Inspector.”
This is the version adapted in 2009 by Jeffrey Hatcher from Nikolai Gogol’s early 19th Century comedy, and it couldn’t be more hilarious or better staged.

From the opening moment when a series of doors and then chairs overrun the stage in balletic fashion, all propelled by cast members, you know that creativity reigns here. Director Allison Narver has assembled a remarkable cast and stage crew to delight us with this tale of corruption, greed, lust and lascivious behavior.

It’s a story many of us have read or seen on screen. The citizens of a small town in Russia learn that an incognito government inspector is coming to perform an audit. Horrified, fearful that their deceits and misdeeds will be discovered, they vow to dupe this emissary from the Czar. Unfortunately for them, they mistake a lowly civil servant for the real government inspector and overwhelm him with an experience he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

R. Hamilton Wright, the faux inspector, excels in his role. He’s a man who is not averse to chicanery, especially when it benefits him, so why on earth would he admit that he wasn’t the man they expected? This uniformly good cast is in top form and knows how to make the most out of the deception. The physical humor is uproarious. Timing is everything, and cast members have it down!

The production crew deserves as much attention as the actors. Peter Rush’s costuming defines social class and offers its own humor. The wigs are remarkable, and they too are indispensible to the humor. Julia Welch’s ever-moveable set creates a ballet of its own as cast members dance the doors and panels across the stage while Andrew D. Smith’s lighting enhances comic effect.

Kudos to Director Allison Narver for putting together this delicious treat.

Through Nov. 19 at Center Theatre, in the Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.com).

“63 Trillion” at West of Lenin, Produced by Sandbox Radio in association with Mud Pay Partners

This is a witty, wonderful, wildly funny play about greedy, somewhat whacko “big money” men who the wealthy trust to husband their resources, and make their portfolios grow. Director Richard Ziman has drawn together some of Seattle’s top male performers to delight us with this insane comedy by John Bunzel. If any of you are worried about your investments as you watch the Dow Jones go up, up, up, this reminder of 2008 may not remove your fears, but it will certainly make you laugh and laugh uproariously.

Here we find ourselves in the inner offices of a major wealth management company where a bunch of jealous, back biting, portfolio managers snarl and snipe at each other like male tigers confined to a small cage. They may officially be partners, but each would as soon castrate any one of the others as invite him to dinner. They reveal themselves in Bunzel’s brilliantly funny dialog.

David Pichette and Charles Leggett

There are no women in this elegant office. This is an all boys’ playing field. The only woman on this stage comes in from the legal department late in the game. Amontine Aurore plays this lawyer with total command, and much as the male partners would like to dismiss her, it appears that she’s actually got the winning hand and winning is what it’s all about.

Playing the partners are David Gehrman, Peter Jacobs, Charles Leggett, Terry Edward Moore, and David Pichette. Their underling, Jonah, (Jason Marr) listens and learns, even more than his mentors can imagine. Each actor is terrific. Pichette plays the guru of the bunch despite the fact that he’s as nutty as the proverbial fruitcake. Perhaps that explains why he’s the oasis of calm as the other money managers are panicking while the Dow Jones falls lower and lower.

It’s a marvelous cast on this stage, and they have been given the most original comedy lines to play with. Congratulations to Ziman and his entire crew (the set is quite wonderful too) for bringing us this truly funny production.

Through Nov. 19 at West of Lenin, 203 N 36 St., Seattle
https://www.63trillionseattle.com or
brownpapertickets.com/event/3081294

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller at ACT

Brilliant! The best production I’ve seen in months! And, no, that’s not hyperbole, but let me put it in perspective. I love Arthur Miller’s work; I love this play; ACT’s production under the direction of John Langs is wonderful, and timely.

Most readers know the story that takes place in Puritan New England. You know—Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Ann Hutchinson, religious extremism, witch trials. Indeed in the l690s a wave of hysteria afflicted the settlement of Salem, Massachusetts. Teen aged girls claimed to be possessed and began identifying neighbors as witches who were working as the devil’s aides and set on destroying the sanctity of the community. Before sanity was restored 20 people, mostly women, were condemned as witches and hung, and, in at least one case, pressed to death by heavy stones. And not surprisingly, some of their most vociferous neighbor/accusers benefited from their demise?

Miller’s play was written and produced during the McCarthy era, a time when the Senator from Wisconsin carried out a witch-hunt against supposed communists, the “witches” who were out to destroy our democracy. Colleagues were forced to testify against colleagues. Innuendo, served as proof. Hysteria prevailed. Innocents, fearful of being accused, failed to speak against this insanity. Hundreds of careers were destroyed. Yet in the process, some careers (McCarthy’s and Roy Cohn’s for example) were enhanced and personal agendas were boosted before being brought down.

It’s all here on this stage, a sparse stage designed by Matthew Smucker that works wonderfully to enhance the story. The cast is an all-star extravaganza. Director Langs has involved many of the most highly regarded actors in the city. There’s Paul Morgan Stetler as John Proctor, the voice of reason in a society gone mad. Anne Allgood, Kurt Beattie, William Hall, Jr., Michael Patten, Marianne Owen, MJ Sieber, Ray Tagavilla and many others whose names you would recognize all offer fine performances.

The special richness of this production is achieved, in good part, by these subtle yet emotionally taught performances. Stetler’s John Proctor is a flawed man of conscience. The intensity of his internal struggles is mesmerizing. Avery Clark and MJ Sieber as the self-satisfied champions of the lord make one squirm. Khanh Doan as Mrs. Proctor creates a victim for whom we must weep. And so it goes, a cast without a single weak member.

This is a play that has been periodically revived as existing social and political circumstances in the United States make it particularly relevant. I would say its messages are always worth remembering, and when the production is as good as this one is, it shouldn’t be missed.

Through Nov. 12 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, 206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.