Virtually every theater fan or professional has a personal story about when he or she first fell in love with the art form. Even I’ve got one. On occasion, I’ve contemplated turning it into a play but fear it would be unoriginal and self-indulgent.
Douglas Carter Beane’s (best known for gay-centered plays such as “The Nance” and the musical “Xanadu”) new comedic drama “Shows for Days,” which is receiving its world premiere Off-Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater, is loosely based on his own coming-of-age tale about how he was introduced to the theater. Not surprisingly, it’s unoriginal and self-indulgent.
Set in 1973, the clean-cut, 14-year-old Car (played by 34-year-old Michael Urie) gets involved with a motley community theater troupe in Reading, Pennsylvania, run by the over-the-top diva Irene (Broadway favorite Patti LuPone) and lesbian Sid (Dale Soules of “Orange Is the New Black”).
Car quietly observes the group’s inner politics and professional struggles. Through sheer ruthlessness, Irene is able to secure a new theater and nonprofit status. Car also has his first sexual experience with a fellow actor (Jordan Dean).
The play (directed by Jerry Zaks) is a rambling, undeveloped, sentimental mess, to the point that Beane depends heavily on direct narration from Car to guide the audience. The design concept of an industrial back wall loaded with props (while most of the scenes are performed without any scenery) is misguided and distracting.
LuPone essentially takes over the production with her hammy, scenery-chewing theatrics, which ought to please her fans. However, one can’t help but wonder if the play would have been better if it focused less on her character and more on Beane’s stand-in, who comes off as plain.
If you go: “Shows for Days” plays at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater through Aug. 23. lct.org.