The dictionary definition of a “nance” is an effeminate man. It was also the name given to the campy homosexual character popular in 1930s burlesque, usually played by a straight man.
In Douglas Carter Beane’s outstanding new play, “The Nance,” Chauncey Miles — brilliantly portrayed by Nathan Lane — is a much beloved burlesque headliner, though burdened by the fact that he is gay. Meanwhile, Mayor LaGuardia is shutting down the New York’s burlesque houses, partly in reaction to the nances.
The burlesque’s manager and lead performer is a man named Efram, played by theater veteran Lewis J. Stadlen. Stadlen spoke to The Arty Semite about why he doesn’t like television, working with the highly sensitive Lane, and how understanding Jewish rhythms helped him land roles.
Curt Schleier: Why is your character Jewish?
Lewis J. Stadlen: I have no idea. That’s the role. He says oy vey iz mir and he’s Jewish. The Minsky brothers were Jewish, and so, I would imagine, were a lot of people involved in burlesque theater in New York and around the country.
Did this role resonate with you in a special way?