Review: The Nance (Pride Films and Plays)

| July 9, 2017

Vince Kracht and Patrick Rybarczyk star in The Nance, Pride Films and Plays            


The Nance

Written by Douglas Carter Beane
Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru Aug 13  |  tix: $30-$40  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

Now extended thru August 13th


Colorful and thought-provoking Chicago premiere


Patrick Rybarcyzk, Steph Vondell, Britt-Marie Sivertsen, Royen Kent and Melissa Young star in The Nance

Pride Films and Plays presents
The Nance

Review by Lauren Whalen

Burlesque has experienced a resurgence in the past decade, often incorporating circus, clowning and sideshow. In the late 1930’s, however, the art form still had a healthy dose of vaudeville – most of which wasn’t exactly politically correct. For actors like The Nance’s Chauncey Miles, the opportunity to play with gay stereotypes was both relief and trap. Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance premiered on Broadway in 2013 starring Nathan Lane – an actor who himself has played gay stereotypes for a large part of his career – and won two Tony Awards. Pride Films & Plays is an ideal home for this colorful, thought-provoking play’s Chicago premiere, and presents a stunning, darkly funny portrait of a time period fraught with drama, both onstage and off.

Vince Kracht, Britt-Marie Sivertsen, Royen Kent, Steph Vondell, Melissa Young and Patrick RybarczykSet over five months in 1937, The Nance opens at an Automat, where Chauncey (Vince Kracht) buys a piece of pie for runaway husband Ned (Royen Kent), who will become his live-in lover. Chauncey is a gay gentleman of a certain age, confident in his conservative politics and relishing his performing career in a burlesque show, where his over-the-top antics have led to popularity for him and a new stream of revenue for the show. However, this is not to last: the very Catholic Mayor LaGuardia and his buttoned-up cronies are cracking down on “indecent” content. Chauncey finds himself at a personal and professional crossroads, when what he initially perceived as Republican showboating becomes a very real threat.

I’ve long been a fan of burlesque, and I’ve even longer been a fan of “Cradle Will Rock,” Tim Robbins’ 2000 film about art, commerce and censorship, also set in Depression-era New York City. That said, I had no idea that gay stereotypes were praised in burlesque – though it’s not surprising, considering blackface was also popular at the time. Chauncey’s conflict between his cheerful, daffy stage persona and his clandestine romantic life (even sitting with a man in public could get him arrested, if he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time) is fascinating and complex. Making things even more complicated, he shares many beliefs with the politicians who are trying to oppress him and destroy his career. Beane skillfully frames scenes from Chauncey’s life offstage with burlesque numbers, songs and skits that grow darker as the play progresses. By the end it’s a little much, as the audience cares so much about Chauncey – and is equally frustrated by him – that yet another bawdy sketch is the last thing we want to see. However, most of the time the device works well, equal parts funny and sad as the numbers parallel Chauncey’s rise and fall. (It’s also a relief to see burlesque acts that are both well-executed and appropriate to the time period: kudos to choreographer Nathan Mittleman, dance captain Caitlin Aase and performers Britt-Marie Sivertsen, Steph Vondell and Melissa Young.)

Britt-Marie Sivertsen, Melissa Young and Steph Vondell star in The Nance, Pride Films PlaysPatrick Rybarcyzk star in The Nance, Pride Films and Plays Royen Kent and Vince Kracht star in The Nance, Pride Films and PlaysPatrick Rybarcyzk, Royen Kent and Vince Kracht star in The Nance

Director John Nasca (who also designed the productions vibrant, sparkling costumes) does an excellent job of setting the scene and putting us squarely in a time and place when gay men had to constantly look over their shoulders and meet up in parks after midnight. Setting the small but skillful group of musicians (conducted by music director Robert Ollis, who also plays piano) onstage was a brilliant decision, as was Jeremy Hollis’ set design, which makes the most of the Pride Arts Center Broadway space. The Nance’s six actors are true triple threats: acting, singing and hoofing with equal aplomb. As Chauncey, the central character who must convey comedy and tragedy with the blink of an eye, and quickly switch between on- and offstage personas, Kracht is nothing short of genius, a shoo-in for the next Jeff Award.

Though a little long, The Nance is an essential play for this place and time. Watching the gay characters monitor their own love lives so closely – and openly flout oppressive laws – I asked myself, has that much really changed? Look at who’s in office: our own Vice President is an advocate of conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals. With song, dance and a surprising amount of comedy, The Nance presents a restrictive era through the eyes of a complex individual, whose motivations aren’t always black and white. Thanks to skillful direction, beautiful production values and a knockout lead performance, Pride Films & Plays has a hit on its hands.

Rating: ★★★½

The Nance continues through July 30th August 13th at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 5pm.  Tickets are $40 for reserved seats, $30 for general admission, and are available by phone (800-737-0984) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)

Britt-Marie Sivertsen and Vince Kracht star in The Nance, Pride Films Plays

Photos by Paul Goyette 




Royen Kent (Ned), Vince Kracht (Chauncey), Patrick Rybarczyk (Efram), Britt-Marie Sivertsen (Joan), Steph Vondell (Carmen), Melissa Young (Sylvie)

Understudies: Caitlin Aase (Sylvie/Joan), Baird Brutscher (Chauncey/Efram), Gary Henderson (Ned), Maria Montero (Carmen)


Robert Ollis (conductor, piano), Lara Ochoa Regan (saxophone, clarinet), Sean O’Donnell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tony Scandora (percussion)

behind the scenes

John Nasca (director, costume design), Robert Ollis (music director), Matt Dominguez (assistant director), Nathan Mittleman (assistant director, choreographer), G. “Max” Maxin IV (lighting design, projection design), Jeremy Hollis (scenic design), Kallie Rollison (sound design), Joaquin Gomez (stage manager), Mary Tarsitano (assistant stage manager), Manny Ortiz (technical director), Kristin Davis (production manager), Caitlin Aase (dance captain), Brian Estep (hair and makeup, wardrobe), James Chapman (audience services), John Olson (public relations), Elayne LeTraunik (development), Manny Ortiz (technical director), David Trudeau (master electrician), Paul Goyette (photos)

Vince Kracht and Patrick Rybarczyk star in The Nance, Pride Films and Plays


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Extensions-Remounts, Lauren Whalen, Pride Arts Center, Pride Films and Plays

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