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“The Nance” Challenging, Difficult, Dark Gay Play on Bway

“The Nance” is a broadway PLAY, NOT a comedy, though it’s being billed as such. And it’s a challenging one for gay men to sit through. It’s dark, difficult and disturbing, highlighted only by comedy in the crude burlesque scenes that alternate with the drama of a tragic gay love story. Which isn’t pretty. I’m just warning you.

However, in the end, one has to admit its’ unpleasant truths about gay men of that era, and their immense self-loathing, are piercingly accurate. “The Nance” makes “Boys in the Band” look like “Hello, Dolly,” by comparison.

I immediately and admittedly did not like it at all. But then, this morning, after I woke up from “The Nance”s- inflicted dark-night-of-the-soul, I had to admit that it is an important work of gay theater, and essential and original, even, in the unspairing look that it takes of a by-gone era of gayness. Gay men at that time HAD to act in that unenlightened, stereotypical way. They didn’t have role models. They didn’t have the Gay Rights movement. They had nothing, except self-hatred. They didn’t know how to be anything else.

I never heard of “a Nance” in all my long gay life. I knew Franklin Pangborn’s and Edward Everett Horton’s campy turns from film, but I had not ever heard of the existence of a this sub-genre of burlesque that evidently was a home for many closeted gay types of that time, but then EVERYONE was in the closet then.

But some people didn’t hate themselves,nor where they in the closet.Like for instance Quentin Crisp.

I knew Quentin Crisp, who painted a VERY different picture of gay life in London of that time, completely without the self-loathing that “The Nance” wallows in. See “The Naked Civil Servant” for a very different picture of that era, the 1930’s, this time in London. Admittedly though, Quentin was not in show business, at that time, though he certainly was later in life. His was performance art, as it were, on the street. He LIVED in drag.

I knew a drag queen performer from Vaudeville, the late great Minette, who talked endlessly and fondly of those days (she also worked in Carnivals as well as Burlesque), but only and always in drag, which was a revered, always employable tradition. She never once mentioned the words “nance.” And I knew her very, very well.I wish she was alive now so I could ask her about the purported Nance’s of her time. She probably didn’t think much of them. To her drag was an art, the greatest art.

Nathan Lane, whom this part was written for, has to be commended for his bravery in taking on such an unflattering role. His comedy, of course, soars, especially in the finale, when he is “reduced” to, horror of horrors! playing in burlesque skits in drag. Which his character of “The Nance” considers the lowest of the low. That also offended me. Especially, as this seems to be what his character of Chancey Miles does best, and should-be been doing all along.

Lane, who is now Out as a gay performer, is so close to this part it irks, while it also rings unsettlingly true.

The piece-de-resistance was the opening scene in an Automat(How I miss that long gone New York institution!) where Lane’s Chauncey is so in the closet it’s painful, as he tries to pick up a beautiful young dream boat (Jonny Orsini) without looking directing at him the entire time, for fear of the police casing the joint. The Vice Squads of the time were always looking to make arrests of unsuspecting gay men trying to hook up. It happened on a weekly, if not nightly basis.

“Meetcha ‘Round the Corner in a Half-an-Hour” Chauncey tells the too-good-to-be-true Ned. And that Burlesque signature line takes on new meaning when Ned actually does just that and moves into Chauncey’s basement Greenwich Village flat. Marvelously evoked by John Lee Beatty’s detailed set which revolves around to reveal the Village Burlesque house, the Irving Place theater, 1937, where Chauncey plies his campy trade.

“Anna Mae Wong’s nightmare” as Chauncey describes his Orient-accented apartment, where the bathtub is in the living room, covered by a board to make a table, and affording the comely Ned a chance to bathe and parade nude, mais oui.

Chauncey’s unwillingness to accept the love and stability that the Perfect and incredibly hot Ned is offering him, is believable at first, but then horrifying in the end, when SPOILER ALERT! he rejects Ned’s monogamy as well as his love completely. THAT was the very disturbing scene to me. How Chauncey completely messes up the one happiness life seems to be offering to him.I’d never send the wonderful, devoted, beautiful, spectacularly endowed Ned packing!

But, Playwright Douglas Carter Beane is saying, this is what his character of the Nance, HAS to do. He has been so beaten up(literally) and beaten down by straight society( he does get arrested) he can’t accept or be happy with anything except rejection. At first, I was so appalled at how Chauncey and Ned ended their love story that I rejected “The Nance” as Chauncey rejects Ned.

But now I see, in the clear light of morning, that Douglas Carter Beane has written an immaculately researched and accurate telling of that era. And in the process, he has also written his first great gay play that is not a comedy. It’s an important social drama. Masterfully directed by the great Jack O’Brien.

So bravo to all involved!

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Bombs in a Flop House

I’ve always thought that whatever unfortunate production found itself mounted at the slightly out-of-the-way Cort Theater on Broadway EAST, a bit, on W.47th St. was always doomed to bomb. I’ve always thought of the Cort as a Flop House.

And when I saw to my dismay that
a)The NEW “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was playing at the Cort, and
b) that it wasn’t a musical, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. Or rather a bump-less night. I don’t know how I stayed awake.

When the most exciting moment of the (ENDLESS) evening turned out to be the leading man, Cory Walker Smith taking all his clothes off and getting into a bathtub, completely needlessly. Totally gratuitously. But suddenly the talent-free Smith suddenly showed his REAL talents, and I now knew why he was cast in the part. He’s
got the slammin’,scuplted, muscular body and, er, talents, to make up for his lackluster acting skills.

His co-star and leading lady Emilia Clarke, then also needlessly disrobed, and joined him in the bath and the bubbles.

This was supposed to signify…well, whatever it was I didn’t care, by that point.

How bad was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? Well, it was soooo bad, that if you were someone who had never had a previous encounter with the works of the late Truman Capote, you’d think “Why the fuss?”

And this production is so dreary, on every level, I don’t think it will still be running by the time I finish typing this sentence.

Already adapted into a musical that never opened, starring Mary Tyler Moore no less in 1966, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is not a flop-proof classic.

Light as air and paper-thin as a novella to start with, the legendary film version starring Audrey Hepburn iconically summed up the social strivings of an era. Hepburn as Holly Golightly was utterly divine and floated on gossamer wings through 1960s Manhattan. She epitomized the struggling, moon-struck yearner in everyone, who comes to New York City. She was the essence of romance. Of dreams striving to be fulfilled. Of someone, who you cared about if her heart was broken, and…well…She made film history.

A generation identified with her. You never forgot her, and “Moon River”! “Moon River” was FROM THIS MOVIE! It won the Oscar for Best Song and Henry Mancini’s dreamy, charming, zany music won Best Score. Audrey Hepburn on that fire-escape strumming her guitar and breaking your heart with “Moon River.” Poignant, haunting, magnificent.

And they have the nerve! The outright GAUL! to have Emilia Clarke attempt a NEW tune-less tune, also strumming a guitar, also on a fire-escape, that was so dirge-like it reminded me of a funeral march. I wanted to escape, the theater, but alas, it was just the first act, and there was much more suffering, dullness and bad acting to be endured for nearly two more narly hours!

Emilia Clarke is a British TV star and I imagine quite photogenic in a close-up. She’s evidently wowed the world in “Game of Thrones” on HBO.(I’ve never seen it.) But whatever the camera reveals of her talents, the stage just emphasizes what she doesn’t have, which is any kind of presence whatsoever.

Could she have been any worse?

No class, no style, no ethereal social butterfly her Holly Golightly, her Holly was like the Maltese Falcon, a fake bird made of lead. The great costume designer Colleen Atwood is also defeated here. Her clothes for Holly at least TRIED to suggest an effervescence. But in fifty shades of grey, which was the predominant color of the dreary slide-projected set, she just faded into the background as some gawky girl tottering around in her mother’s high heels and finery. I was around New York in the ’60s, and believe me it was anything BUT grey!

Warhol’s divine drag star Holly Golightly, 40 years ago, in “Trash” had that demented, delusions of grandeur diva thing going on ALL THE TIME. I kept thinking of the great story about her in real life, when she successfully emptied out the French Ambassador’s wife’s bank account. Then went back again A SECOND TIME and this time the impersonation landed her “in the hooskow” as she put it to me on the Christmas episode of my TV show in 1992.
IOW, Ryker’s Island. I must re-run that show again soon.

This is what this “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was making me think of….And it also made me think of how much like Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles, Capote’s Holly Golightly really was. Did Capote read Isherwood’s”I Am a Camera” of his Berlin stories, and just decide “Oh, I can do better than THAT?” But did he?

And yes, I kept waiting for the band to strike up and the music to begin, but alas, it never did. The actors just “spoke” Oy vay.

And of yes, George Wendt wandered around, in a miniscule part of a bartender, looking embarrassed, like he was looking for the exit.

And the cat! Oh yes! The cat! The cat was great! I really believed she was a cat! And the cat scampered off looking for the exit, just like George Wendt was doing.

And so was I. As soon as I possibly could.

Oscar’s Pesky Supporting Categories. Mucho loco.

Oh, those pesky Oscar Supporting Categories! They are sooo hard to pin down, always, but this year’s there’s so much movement it makes the potential nominees look like Mexican jumping beans!

And no SAG didn’t match the Golden Globes, and they both didn’t match the  (Broadcast Film Critics Assoc.) But look who these groups REALLY represent. Look closely. And the first thing you may notice is that the Broadcast Film Critics, is made up, of mostly, well, film critics.

And there are NO film critics in the Academy. Repeat after me. THERE ARE NO FILM CRITICS IN THE ACADEMY.

And Stu Vanairsdale’s www.movieline.com excellent depiction of the Hollywood Foreign Press as “swag monkeys” is sooo apposite I want to adopt it just for my own, but yes, that defines them. ABSOLUTELY. And also, they are PRESS. And yes, repeat after me…no don’t bother. There’s no press in the Academy either….

So the fact that Michael Fassbender didn’t get a SAG nom is much more significant than it may at first seem. AND he’s urinating on-screen. Literally pissing his nomination away. And that’s how Demian Bichir got HIS SAG nom, playing a heroic Hispanic gardener. Yeah, this category this year . It’s a pisser.

But also not nominated for SAG was Albert Brooks from “Drive” and that make me wonder. He was nominated for Supporting Actor by both the BFCA and the GG, but to be left out of SAG may be fatal.

Why was Brooks not nominated for “Drive”? Maybe because THEY DIDN’T WATCH “DRIVE.” SAG gave nothing to “Drive” whereas the BFCA nominated it A LOT.

Who was nominated in Brooks’ place? Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar!” Stupendous in “The Joy of Typing” as BOTH Winklevoss twins, he’s riding a crest of good will. And Academy members keep exclaiming “I loved J.Edgar!” Which is something obviously Stu V. isn’t hearing.

And Hammer benefits by being in Leo DiCaprio’s shadow. He gets to kiss him, after all (Degree of difficulty!) And even though “J. Edgar” was left off the PGA list, it made MY Ten Best, and I STILL think it’s another Clint Eastwood masterpiece. THAT could be a surprise BP pop-up on Oscar Nomination Day, which is Tuesday Jan.24.

AMPAS members are voting right now on their choices of nominations. Yes, they are. And so what’s on their minds? Well, “The Artist” for one, which is going to get more nominations than any other film this year. And Berenice Bejo is on her way to a for sure Best Supporting Actress nomination and possibly even a win, in my book.

The Argentinian/French beauty carries as much of the film as the stalwart Jean Dujardin, who did win the Best Actor prize in Cannes this year. And she got a BFCA, a SAG nod, and also a Golden Globe nomination. So she was the triple crown of nods as it were.

And she also just won BEST ACTRESS in the Rome Film Festival which just wrapped last week.

So she’s definitely on a roll, and she’s also married IRL to “The Artist” s front-runner for Best Director Michel Hazanaviscius. And HE’S probably going to win Best Director across the board, and if she won, too, that would be the first time in Oscar history that a husband and wife team won double Oscars, a quaint touch that the Academy may very likely find too charming to resist, too. Just like their movie!

They’re French, and SOOOO in love! And so happy!

Berenice’s main competition is Octavia Spenser for “The Help.” Spencer, an unknown up until this season, also was a recipient of a SAG, BFCA & a GG nod. So she’s almost assured of a nomination. But she’s an Academy newbie. Her memorable performance as the foul-mouthed Minnie is the kind of role that gets nominated but doesn’t necessarily WIN awards.

And there was that shitting in the pie scene. Unlike Michael Fassbender, we don’t SEE her doing it, thank god, but she does do it, and then serves it to Bryce Dallas Howard, RON HOWARD’S daughter! in real life, who plays the villainess Hilly so well here in “The Help.”

Stu V. and Tom O’Neil at www.GoldDerby.com and many others have her as a frontrunner in Supporting Actress, but I wonder….

I do NOT think the Academy is open-minded enough to award TWO African-American actresses in ONE year. One of them, maybe, but not both. And Viola Davis is pictured and named as “The Frontrunner” on this week’s Entertainment Weekly annual Oscar issue. She’s pictured with George Clooney, which actually could be the kiss of death. They could BOTH not win.

And the two “Help” women, may split the “Help” vote. And neither wins.

It’s a very interesting year in that the actress categories are so up-in-the-air.

And it just goes to show that Meryl Streep’s reviews for “The Iron Lady” were sooooo bad that they vaulted Viola Davis on to the cover of EW!

And Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants” was not nominated for a SAG award either.  Too young, merely a teenager. But Janet McTeer of “Albert Nobbs” was…and Stu V. has Glenn Close of “Albert” slipping out of the locked five in Best Actress, being replaced by Rooney Mara. I don’t see that happening. But Janet McTeer has ALSO scored the trifecta of BFCA, SAG & GG.

And then there’s Jessica Chastain & her 5000 films she was in this year’s problem. What to nominate her for? Well, if it’s for “The Help” (a good perf, but not great) she’d also be splitting the “Help” vote with Spencer and then…and then…Berenice Bejo wins!

And Vanessa Redgrave could win in this category, but she’s been nominated nowhere so far and it seems like NO body is watching “Coriolanus.”

And then there’s sweet Carrie Mulligan who shows HER nether regions in “Shame.” But oh yes, since she’s a young girl, that could help her…but so far…No nominations…which is a REAL shame.

And Christopher Plummer? He won this race, Supporting Actor, the minute his marvelous film “Beginners” opened in May. The question that plagues us Oscar-ers and Oscar-ettes, is who’s going to be nominated in that category and lose to him. Plummer has never seen so, well, plummy. And he’s experiencing the most attention and love he’s perhaps ever gotten in his long and very chequered career. He’s very grand, too, as Herbert Wanger in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” It’s his year. He’s everywhere!

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