Bryce Weibe & Jason Cooper in The Nance. Photos courtesy of Pandora Productions.
By Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Michael Drury
Reviewed by Janelle Renee Dunn
Entire contents are copyright © 2017, Janelle Renee Dunn. All rights reserved.
There are times when one goes to the theatre to experience a play just for sheer entertainment. There are times when one goes to the theatre to experience a play to be challenged in a new and thought-provoking way. Then there are times when one comes across a production that does both. Pandora Productions latest, The Nance, is such a production.
The audience is introduced to Chauncey Miles, played by Jason Cooper, a gay burlesque comic who is well known for his “Nance” character during the 1930’s. When we first meet Chauncey he is at an automat, the period equivalent of a fast food restaurant, to arrange a “meeting” with other men. While there he meets Ned, played by Bryce Weibe, who has recently arrived in New York after leaving his former life behind. The two have a one-night stand that turns into a serious relationship.
The relationship between Chauncey and Ned only provides a small layer to the complexity that is The Nance. Their relationship helps introduce us to Chauncey’s burlesque world at the Irving Palace, which is under attack from the government. Chauncey, who is also a staunch Republican, believes that the Governor is only doing this to be re-elected. However, when the moment comes, Chauncey takes a stand against the legal persecution of the gay community.
Chauncey Miles is what the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle would call a tragic hero. When we first meet him life is good, yet when he takes a moment to stand up everything begins to unravel. Jason Cooper’s portrayal of Chauncey was interesting. As the tragic hero, he compels us to cheer for and pity him as life unravels. Yet, Cooper manages to make one question whether his character is truly standing up for gay rights or for a performer’s right to be what they truly are onstage. At first, he is a little tepid. In the opening scene with Weibe, Cooper seems to get caught up with his newspaper. The constant putting it down and picking it up became a little distracting, especially when he kept trying to fold it and it would not stay folded. However, Cooper really shines during the burlesque “skits” playing to his comedic strengths. His best work happens close to the end when we are back in the automat years later where he finally ends things with Ned.
The ensemble as a whole work very well together, each having their own moment to shine. Jeff Ketterman, as burlesque troupe manager, Efram, plays a great “straight man” off of Cooper’s Nance during the their skits. The female burlesque dancers, Mandi Elkins Hutchins (Carmen), Amanda Kyle Lahti (Joan), and Anna Meade (Sylvie) are a welcome addition to the show. However, it’s Hutchins who is the true standout in their trio.
The only downside to the production was the pre-recorded music. At times it was too soft, which made it difficult to hear, or was completely drowned out by the vocals.
The Nance is an ambitious show for Pandora to undertake, and it’s always great to see a company not only take on such a challenge but execute it flawlessly.
Featuring Jason Cooper, Bryce Weibe, Jeff Ketterman, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Amanda Kyle Lahti, Anna Meade
March 9- 20, 2017
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Janelle Renee Dunn, originally from Duncan, South Carolina, is an actor, singer and teaching artist. She has a MFA in Acting from the University of Louisville and a BA in Theatre (Directing) from Berea College. Before becoming the Performing Arts teacher at Chancey Elementary this school year, Janelle Renee taught drama workshops and drama clubs to students for three years. She also appeared in the title role of a local kid’s touring show, Kylie for President (Drama by George). Janelle Renee is also the Co-Artistic Director for Smoked Apple Theater Group. She recently made her professional directorial debut with SATG’s production of Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits. Acting credits include: Click, Clack, Moo (Stage One), ShowBoat (Kentucky Opera), Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Bunbury Theatre), Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and Rocky Horror Show (Pandora Productions), Much Ado About Nothing and Becoming Mother’s (Looking for Lilith) and Doubt (Wayward Actors).