Enough of the audience seemed charmed by Douglass Carter Beane’s semi(?) autobiographical Shows for Days—a fond reminiscence of its young hero’s introduction to the theatre via immersion in Community Theatre—that I can’t objectively say it nay. But I’m also honor bound to tell you that I wish it were both better and less familiar.
Structurally, it tends to amble anecdotally, its beginning and end touchpoints being the day the young man became a part of the company and the day he was ejected from it (though of course, it will be a departure mandated for “for his own good” as a budding theatre professional than a firing). A very charming Michael Urie plays Car (obviously Carter) both as the present day rememberer and his younger self in 1973, Reading Pennsylvania. Right away, we hit the familiar tropes (as one must), Sid the self-described butch-dyke stage manager (Dale Soules); Maria the ingenue and besieged company manager (Zoe Winter); Damien the closeted-gay leading man (Jordan Dean); Clive, the older character man, African American and giving a whole new spin on non-traditional casting (Lance Coadie Williams); and finally—slightly-too-old leading lady, diva, local celebrity, artistic director and large-personality grande dame—Irene (Patti LuPone).
As always with a Beane play, the characterizations are sharp and the dialogue even shaper, and under the direction of Jerry Zaks, all the comedy marks are dutifully hit…but this is a story that has been told so much better, from Moss Hart’s Act One (plus its recent dramatization by James Lapine), to the theatrical subplot of the RSC adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, to David Shaber’s screenplay for (and subsequent novel based on) Those Lips, Those Eyes, and on and on, memoirs, miniseries, movies and plays about a young man coming of age in the world of the stage. Argue that this is a newer one for younger people who don’t know the “catalog,” or that it may be the first with a gay protagonist (is that even possible after all this time?)—or indeed that as a small cast play performed on what is pretty much a black-box set, it’s the perfect self-referential play for actual community theatres to produce—and I’ll say fair enough. May it be enjoyed on those terms, as indeed it seems to be. But as a great new addition to the literature? Welllll, not so much.
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