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A CurtainUp Review
Show For Days
Unfortunately what is discharged too conspicuously over the course of two regrettably interminable hours (the second hour being almost all vapid vamping) is the recycling of hot air. It is expended with equal hubris by the otherwise endearing Michael Urie (Buyer & Cellar) as Car the young, soon-not-to-be-so-innocent apprentice, and by an irascibly overbearing, motor-mouthed Patti LuPone, as Irene the little theater's diva-defined artistic director.
In fairness, Urie's role as the stand-in for the author as active participant and asides narrator discharges Car's self-serving, self-indulgent observations with affable charm and aplomb. LuPone is in fine fettle sashaying around the cast in various levels of high dudgeon. She is also formidably armed with an array of scenery-chewing outbursts, all of which are designed to reveal her as duplicitous, contentious and as a gloriously dedicated artist committed to saving her theater.
Shows for Days as been directed and staged with precision and panache by theater veteran Jerry Zaks. The action is purposefully contained within the spare open space of the Prometheus Theater in Reading, Pennsylvania, and where the author presumably learned the ropes and also lost his virginity (as we witness semi-quasi graphically).
The perimeters of the pathetic little theater that is under constant threat as well as with the reality of demolition (Sound designer Leon Rothenberg gets credit for the occasionally invasive sound of the wrecking ball) are lined with shelves filled with assorted props, a dressing screen, costumes and accumulated bric-a-brac.
Set designer John Lee Beatty's contribution, however, takes a back seat to the kitschy costumes provided by William Ivey Long, especially the constantly dressed-to-dazzle attire he created for LuPone.
Just about everything that could be done has been done to give a slick and polished sheen to a script and a plot that basically goes either in circles regarding a real estate issue or meanders off to nowhere of consequence at all. Basically a memory play, the grown and successful Car, transports us back to the day he wanders into the downtown theater, forgets to go home and is recruited on the spot when the actor playing the butler ...well you know the drill.
Over the course of several months, Car is not only seduced by the allure of the stage and its impassioned actors but by the leading man Damien (Jordan Dean) an aggressive bi-sexual red-haired hunk who is also shtupping the unhappily married Irene. More unhappily integrated is Irene's frequent use of Yiddish-isms that eventually leads to a barely credible character revelation. This is not nearly as simplistically manufactured as those involving the troupe's flamboyant, politicized African-American show queen Clive (Lance Coadie Williams), and Maria (Zoe Winters), the always near-to-tears ingenue.
Although none of the supporting characters are more than stock types, there is an outstanding performance by Dale Soules, as Sid, the resident self-ascribed "bull dyke" cum devoted (to Irene) company manager. Soules's tough, gritty but also emotionally persuasive performance anchors the play's other more hazily considered convolutions.
Somewhere in the middle of Shows for Days young Car's talent for writing is noticed and he gets the amazing opportunity to write an original play for the Prometheus Theater. We are told of this but we don't get to experience the nurturing of it either in rehearsal or in production. We are only allowed to guess what it was like. And now we can only guess what Shows for Days might have been like given more nurturing.
What is most perplexing is what forces convinced Beane that the tale he wants to tell was ready for the telling. Enabling the gifted playwright, who has engaged us with some of the best plays of recent seasons (The Nance , The Little Dog Laughed , As Bees in Honey Drown ) and books for musicals (Cinderella , Lysistrata Jones Xanadu with a full production at Lincoln Center at this stage in the play's development is a pity.
A rush to production has short-circuited a worthy project that would seem to be close to Beane's heart. It is certainly a story that could serve as an inspiration and a testament to all who have found in community theater a warm and welcoming haven. For Beane, it was also a gateway to a richly fulfilling world beyond.