By Harry Haun
16 Apr 2013

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Andrea Burns, Cady Huffman and Jenni Barber
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

O'Brien and his set designer, John Lee Beatty, picked the Lyceum because it came closer to the visual look of the theatre in the play. "We talked about what we were trying to do with this show," O'Brien recalled. "I said, 'I think it's going to need a turntable, which was obvious because we were on stage, then we were side-stage. The only way to do that is with a turntable. He came back with that birthday cake of a set. Usually, you start out saying, 'Let's talk about the relationships. Let's talk about the world underneath.' The truth of the matter is, I said, 'No, we must start with that set and make love to it because, until you know how to go in and out of it like a rabbit warren, change your clothes and come out as somebody else, it won't work."

Beane was unapologetic about the darkness that envelops his second act. "I think people get what's going on. Some were taken aback when it takes its stark turn in Act Two—but it is inevitable. Everything that happens in the second act is prophesized in the first act." Hastening Chauncey's exit from showbiz was a real-life firebrand the playwright unearthed in his research. "Paul Moss was the commissioner of licenses," he said. "I did a ton of research on him. He's, like, my little discovery. According to his obituary and every report I've read, he was a bachelor. In the '40s, basically the theatre community stood up to him and got rid of him. He was a failed producer. It's interesting, his brother—P.S. Moss—built the Broadway Theatre where Cinderella is. His brother was the successful one—Paul, not so much."

"Gay New York," a very detailed and scholarly book covering the same period as the play and beyond, was Beane's main source of research and inspiration, and he saluted the author by naming his leading character after him. "It's a little unreal to have Nathan Lane play a character named after me," confessed George Chauncey, "and to see a play that draws so much on my book. Just to social geography—when he's talking about the places that gays are meeting, cruising and so forth—those are really where they were doing this. The automats were notorious in those days—Bryant Park and so forth. His idea that Ned is going to be 'trade,' going to be a straight guy doing it for some money, and his difficulty in imagining a butch guy like Ned could be queer himself—that all comes out in twentieth-century views."

If you recall his achingly real Butley a few years back, you know Lane is a master of emotional disarray. Here he has cause to run around picking up what's left of his life. He's someone who had to do everything for himself. No one handed him anything.

"Chauncey breaks my heart," the actor admitted. "I'm sorry he can't allow himself to have that relationship. It's all 'I don't deserve it.' I think it's also the times, too. He and Ned are figuring this out as they went along, and he sorta falls into this thing which is supposed to be for a few weeks until he got a job, but, ultimately, when things go wrong in his professional life, he starts to act out and behave badly."

Jonny Orsini's performance of the young man who sincerely loves Chauncey moves front and center in this portion of the story and manages to be profoundly affecting.

"Ned," he said, "is completely unashamed to love. He's really simple and brave in that way. 'A relationship means a lot to me. If I love them—it doesn't matter if it's a guy or a girl and it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, it's a wide-open heart, which is such an admirable quality. I really enjoy playing a person like that."