Shows for Days
By Douglas Carter Beane
Nutley Little Theatre
47 Erie Place, Nutley
Thursday-Sunday, through April 27. No matinee Easter Sunday.
By GWEN OREL
Love “Fosse/Verdon,” the new series about choreographer Bob Fosse and wife, dancer Gwen Verdon, on FX?
Then you’ll get a kick out of “Shows for Days,” Douglas Carter Beane’s 2015 memory (Genesius, here called Promethius) play-cum-valentine to the amateur theater where he worked as a teenager.
Car, a gay man and playwright (his sexuality matters) in the present, tells the story of the summer of 1973, when he was 14. Think Tom in “The Glass Menagerie.”
Beane, the author of Broadway’s “The Nance” (2013) knows his way around a quip.
“Many are called, but few are called back,” says company founder and Grand Dame Irene (based on Jane Simmon Miller, who founded Genesius in 1971).
Under the direction of Montclair’s Penny Paul, the six-person cast has a ball.
Kristine Stringer hams it up as Irene (it was Patti Lupone at Lincoln Center); Lonzell Wilson smirks as Clive; Judy Wilson delivers deadpan comments as self-described “bull dyke” Sid, the stage manager; Ruth Kliwinski is googly as melodramatic actress Maria; and Rafelle Danta purrs as sexual opportunist actor Damien.
Montclair’s Michael Smith-Gallo nimbly inhabits Car, moving between modern snark and the boyish wonder of the kid who joined the company when he wandered in one day to kill time.
Paul writes in the program about learning to drink coffee and wear eyeliner as a teenager at a Long Island summer stock company, and the love of amateur theater shines through (though Prometheus seems more like a non-Equity amateur company, with months-long extensions, based on reviews, than community theaters around here.
But Beane’s plot meanders. Act One centers on the threat of the wrecking ball to the storefront theater (we hear it hilariously crashing, kudos to Sound Designer Keith Raulerson). Irene resorts to blackmail to get another space.
Act Two centers on Car’s sexuality, and a mysterious “whodunnit” leak to the press — which leads to Irene’s triumphant to do challenging work by Beckett, Sophocles, Chekhov. They will not sell out.
For more than an hour we’ve seen a bedraggled crew emote at one another. We never see the serious transformative power of theater, though we hear it talked about. A beautiful call back to “Carousel” in the final scene only works if you know the musical — it’s not previously onstage.
Director Penny Paul stages inventively, especially in a scene where the company glares at a rival troupe in a restaurant. However, all of the actors push too hard. If Paul pulled them in to show quiet truths more often (which each does show at times), the play would work better. Judy Wilson, so funny recently in NLT’s “The Divine Sister,” demonstrates great timing. Smith-Gallo succeeds as a grown man more than as a teen; he seems almost a child. It makes sense as a memory choice, but it makes the sex scene uncomfortable.
Beane’s script is part send-up, part valentine, and those ingredients curdle.
But it’s fun anyway. Lauren Spooner’s 1973 costumes, particularly Irene’s wealthy hippy tunics, are a giggle in themselves.