Burlesque comes alive
The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1909 as the first print citation of camp as
“ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to, characteristic of, homosexuals.” The Nance is an on stage portrayal of a campy character of this era, Chauncey, superbly played by Vince Karacht. The Nance captures the essence of what this definition signified.
The story follows Chauncey, both on and off stage, as he leads a somewhat double life of being The Nance on stage while living as a closeted homosexual in his personal life. With period perfect dialogue, and costumes, The Nance whisks the audience back in time to 1937 to a New York City burlesque club. Burlesque was very popular with the gentlemen who came for the risqué dance numbers and overtly sexual comedy interludes featuring The Nance character. This was also a time of changing values. Because of burlesque’s lewd content, shows were highly scrutinized by local politicians religious groups and other citizens seeking higher moral standards.
Shake your shimmy
The burlesque club is accurately brought to life by the addition of actors, Patrick Rybarcyz, Melissa Young, Britt-Marie Silvertson, and Steph Vondell portraying the club’s owner and the burlesque dancers.
While on stage the effeminate character of The Nance is a crowd pleaser. Off stage there was a stark difference. For anyone who was a nance at this time in America suffered because homosexuality was completely disparaged. Off stage Chauncey finds other men like himself in secret inconspicuous places such as laundromats and late night excursions in Central Park. It is at a local laundromat known for being a homosexual hang out where Chauncey finds an unexpected new love in a younger homeless newcomer, Ned, played by Royen Kent, who expertly captures the character’s lovelorn innocence.
For a time, Chauncey and Ned are happy living together and Chauncey even gives Ned a role in the burlesque show. However, the political and social climate of the day as well as Chauncey’s wandering eye bring an end to their relationship.
The laughs keep coming
The onstage burlesque shows include dancing and singing scenes that are delightfully wicked and superbly executed. There is a show stealing burlesque routine where actor Vondell appears on stage in a bodysuit covered with balloons and in a sexually suggested manner pops each balloon with a lit cigarette. Another highlight is when Silvertson dances seemingly nude on stage using two large white feathered fans strategically placed that she beautifully maneuvers to cover herself during the routine.
For a small venue, the production seems larger than life with each character bursting on stage making it their own. This script has it all—from clever dialogue filled with double entendres to wonderful one line zingers. And A small band conducted by Robert Ollis is an unexpected and quite delightful backdrop to the beautifully choreographed burlesque dance and singing sequences They are flawlessly executed as the dancers repeatedly sing to the audience in sexually suggestive manners, “Meet me around the corner in a half an hour.” (Choreographer, Nathan Mettleman).
Love is a fragile thing
This all surrounds a love story that can’t be completely realized due to bigotry, the morals of that era, and the danger of being openly gay in the political climate of the 1930’s.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
This play contains brief male nudity
June 29 to August 16
The Broadway, Pride Arts Center
4139 N. Broadway, Chicago
About the Author:
Steven Braun, Volunteer Engagement Committee Leader and Volunteer Trainer at Center on Halsted was born and raised suburbanite, now 30 years Chicago urbanite. Steve is a real estate entrepreneur and germane to these pages, also a member of, advocate for, and friend to the LGBTQ Community. When not volunteering, writing, or at the gym, Steve can be found watching "House Hunters.