149 West 45th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Through June 17, $37- $132
As Douglas Carter Beane’s enjoyable new play, The Nance, opens, Chauncey (Nathan Lane) is sitting in a Greenwich Village Automat, looking for someone to go home with. He sets his sights on an attractive young man, Ned (Jonny Orsini), but they have to hide their potential rendezvous for fear of being arrested — because, yes, being or acting gay in public could land you in jail in 1930s New York City. But after their very funny one-night stand, Chauncey, a local burlesque performer who stars as the Nance (short for Nancy Boy) in a show at the Irving Place Theatre, cannot seem to shake the mysterious Ned, who keeps hanging around, which both delights and annoys Chauncey, a conservative Republican who cherishes his privacy. But as the cops close in on them, they both have to examine who they really are deep down and what they want out of life. Playwright Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, Xanadu) and award-winning director Jack O’Brien (The Coast of Utopia, Hairspray) keep the action moving across John Lee Beatty’s rotating set, which turns from Chauncey’s apartment to backstage and then onstage at the Irving Place Theatre, where Chauncey performs naughty sketches with his partner, Efram (Lewis J. Stadlen), that are filled with deliciously devious and supremely silly double entendres. The troupe also includes bawdy strippers Carmen (Andréa Burns), Joan (Jenni Barber), and Sylvie (Cady Huffman), who tantalize the audience with yet more haughtiness. The play is at its best when Chauncey delves into the political implications of his personal life and career, particularly in an inventively staged courtroom scene. But while the play celebrates the boundary-defying, envelope-pushing burlesque defended so eloquently by Chauncey, it actually features far too many examples; while several of the skits are memorable, at certain points it would have been more interesting to continue with what was going on behind the scenes rather than depicting yet another burlesque bit. The Nance was written with Lane in mind, and Lane is terrific in the role that, well, was tailor made for him. Huffman, who won a Tony playing opposite Lane in The Producers, is also outstanding as a stripper who is smarter than she initially lets on. If you love old-fashioned burlesque, you’re likely to love The Nance, while if you don’t care much for that type of entertainment, you’re still in for a solid night of quality theater.