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Shows For Days

Patti LuPone and Michael Urie in a scene from “Shows for Days” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

                                        By David Schultz

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has his heart on his sleeve. His newest play is his romantic recollection of being bitten by the thrill of acting and being in the theater surrounded by eccentric showbiz folk. It all begins with the main character named Car, played by gregarious Michael Urie, an alter ego for the playwright. He pops out of the wings, smiles brightly and breaks the fourth wall and greets the audience. He has a story to tell us about his naïve youth in 1973, stirrings of his sexuality, and most importantly his total immersion of becoming an actor and budding playwright. Both portraying this personage at age 14, and a seasoned older man with a successful career as a playwright, four decades later, it gives the play a certain vantage point of perspective   

Taking place in a fading, decaying theater in Reading Pennsylvania, this bare-bones community theater is a perfect way for Car to hone his craft. He will contemplate his formative years, filtered through his imagination as the play moves forward. He states early on as an aside to the audience: “This story isn’t the truth. It’s the only way I know how to tell the truth, which is through fiction.”

Jordan Dean, left, and Michael Urie.                                                

Holding court over the panoply of actors is Irene (Patti Lupone) theater diva, and director of the company. Determined at any cost to save her theater from uninterested patrons, and dwindling ticket sales, she is obsessed with keeping her theater company afloat. Her actors and stage crew are a motley, but lovable bunch: Maria (Zoe Winters), a fresh-faced eager actress, Clive (Lance Coadie Williams) a fey, African American with flamboyant gestures. Damien (Jordan Dean) a snarky young lothario on the prowl… He shares his romantic ardor and sexual favors with both Irene, and Car in equal measure. Sid (Dale Soules) a masculine woman, who always carries her tool kit with her to fix the set, barks out her voice to anyone at hand.

The entire play transpires on John Lee Beatty’s backstage rehearsal hall. Piled up three levels to the ceiling in the background are decades of theater paraphernalia from shows in the past, set pieces, and furniture, fading costumes, basically the entire history of the theater itself. Various actors move and redistribute minimal settings throughout the show, tables, and chairs onto clearly visible markings on the floor. The excessively theatrical costumes (William Ivey Long) for the actors back-stage and in various costume changes as they perform off-stage, most notably Peter Pan are dashed off with his usual panache. The bright lighting of the production (Natasha Katz) rarely darkens, giving no place for the actors to hide.

The overly dense plot and convoluted machinations are initially fun to watch. Mr. Beane has an uncanny ear for what actors sound like as they fend and fight each other in loving competition. But the storylines, as delightful as they are, eventually engender a musty feeling. The play circles around itself too many times and it wears one down. By the Second Act, Shows For Days seems endless and listless. There is really no pay-off to all the shenanigans we have endured for the last two hours. Despite this, watching the proceedings are no less than enjoyable, the performers relish their chance to chew the scenery. But the end result is rather unprepossessing when we get to the finale.

Ms. LuPone is perfectly cast as the diva in this play. To wit, the very evening I attended the performance, Ms. LuPone made theater history and her surprising spur-of-the-moment action went viral and hit the headlines the next day. In the audience that night sat a young woman with her husband, sitting stage left, close to the front of the stage, she furiously texted on her Smartphone throughout the entire first act with no regard to the production. All the actors onstage had full view of the text-zilla woman. Earlier that day in the matinee performance no less than four cell phones had gone off during the show. The emotional fever must have been extremely high that night. As the First Act drew to a close, Ms. LuPone made her way Stage Left for her usual exit. But on this occasion, she slowed down, drew near the female phone demon and without breaking character leaned over the woman and said “This is how we do it in the theater darling…we are actors here you know!” And with a magician’s skill she grabbed the cell phone and walked off-stage with it. The immediate theatergoers nearby gasped and applauded her actions. The majority of patrons that evening were unaware of the event, until the news spread the following day in all aspects of the media. Kudos to Ms. LuPone for her swift actions that night. Will that curtail any more cell phone disturbances in the future? Don’t bet on it. Anyone need to charge his or her cell phone in an outlet onstage before the show starts? Opps. …That happened one-week before at Hand To God, down the street. If only theatergoers would sit still and concentrate on what they paid to see. If only…

Shows for Days (through August 23, 2015)

Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater, in Manhattan

For tickets call 212-239-6200  or visit or Running time:  two hours and five minutes including one intermission