New York City Theater
"Shows for Days"
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
Ah, the auditions, the rehearsals, the performances. And the parties. Just about anyone who’s been in theater remembers that performing or being backstage in an amateur, community theater was the most fun you could have. Douglas Carter Beane -- author of hits “As Bees in Honey Drown,” “The Little Dog Laughed” and “The Nance – remembers. And he’s written an amusing, rather formless play about it, one you wish were a whole lot better.
Obviously autobiographical, “Shows for Days” eavesdrops on a teenager’s memories of life backstage at the local community theater where he discovers not only showbiz but himself. It’s a heady topic -- theater folk can’t stop talking about the past -- but Beane’s new comedy, filled with nostalgia and gossip, is more a series of diary entries than an evening with plot or structure, cause and effect. About the only action is, will the Prometheus Playhouse in Reading Pa. survive the wrecking ball? That’s not enough to prevent the evening from drifting away.
Prometheus is run by Irene, a dynamic doyenne who’s part virago, part soft-hearted matriarch who will do anything for success. “Big choices, big results” is her motto as she gleefully puts down a rival theater. As played by Patti LuPone, whose DNA is nothing if not formidable, Irene’s blood runs red with desire and devotion, brooking no negatives. Opinionated, no-nonsense, diva, mistress of all she surveys, LuPone is flamboyant but ultimately touching in her faith.
It’s her flamboyance that attracts the fledgling writer, Car, a stand-in for Beane. Paint the floor? Sure. Answer phones? Of course. Write a play? Why not? But remember why we’re here. “If you want reality,” says Irene, “you’ve come to the wrong place.”
The irresistibly charming Michael Urie is Car. Recalling his adventures in a flashback, all is accomplished with an ingratiating smile. Car’s itch to dabble with the grownups is palpable, his sexual awakening more giddy than sensuous.
Falling in love not only with the theater but also the troupe’s reigning hunk, Car is soon indispensable to the theater’s successful move from a condemned building to a better funded, more secure location. But Beane has other, more serious concerns: in his view, theater needs to be more daring, more focused on Congreve, Shaw and Beckett, less devoted to “the curse of the bottom line” at the expense of art.
Jerry Zaks directs with an eye on swiftness, perhaps so we won’t notice the lack of complexity. Zoë Winters as an insecure ingénue, Lance Coadie Williams as an effeminate actor and Jordan Dean as the object of Car’s affection do what they can with familiar roles. Dale Soules, as the resident lesbian of all work, is terrific.
So are John Lee Beatty’s props-filled set, William Ivey Long’s exaggerated costumes and Natasha Katz’s versatile lighting. They’re top drawer, which is more than can be said about the play.
--David A. Rosenberg
July 15, 2015