`The Nance’ offers unsettling look at a very different time

Vaudeville, burlesque routines are set in America of the 1930s

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“The Nance,” a somewhat dark tale with solid cast, is at the Edge Theater in Lakewood through April 2. It is set in the 1930s and focuses on issues surrounding identity and human rights.

The play that opened on Broadway in 2013 concerns a “nance,” which in American vaudeville and burlesque shows, was a (usually straight) man who acted effeminate and swishy, spouting some off-color jokes at times, in addition to a song and dance routine. Talented actor/director Warren Sherrill plays the increasingly pathetic nance, Chauncey Miles, who leads a life of one-nighters and noninvolvement until the younger Ned (Jihad Milhem) appears in his life…

The production, directed by Rick Yaconis, claims to have “12 hilarious vaudeville and burlesque acts” which feature Sherrill (Chauncy Miles), John Ashton as straight comedian Ephram and four showgirl dancer-singers: Patty Ionoff (Sylvie), Emily Tuckman (Carmen), Amy Gray (Joan) and Emily Gomes (Rose).

In that period in the U.S. and elsewhere, it was dangerous to be gay, and Chauncey is eventually arrested.

Short scenes are woven together by a set that alternates between the stage backdrop: a large gold frame around a painted curtain, like one would have found in a turn-of-the-century burlesque theater; a New York automat and Chauncey’s apartment, revealed when the theater curtain is drawn aside (clever solution to limited space).

Perhaps 12 vaudeville and burlesque acts are a few too many — the play runs long and has a less-than-comical ending — but it presents a picture of American entertainers during and following the Great Depression. This is a regional premiere for “The Nance” and The Edge is to be admired for bringing on edgy, new material.

If you go

“The Nance” plays through April 2 at the Edge Theater, 1560 Teller St., Lakewood. Performances: 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays. (No performance March 19). Tickets: theedgetheater.com.

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