LuPone Goes Back to Community Theater in “Shows for Days”

Michael Urie’s TV and stage bosses have been a histrionic bunch -- most recently, he toiled for an unseen Barbra Streisand in the hit off-Broadway comedy “Buyer & Cellar.” Who could the spirited actor possibly punch a timecard for as an encore?

How does Patti LuPone sound?

In “Shows for Days,” a disorderly dark comedy by Douglas Carter Beane (“The Nance”), Urie stars as a young member of a community theater troupe run by director, fund-raiser and star Irene (LuPone, as a Jewish version of Patti LuPone -- her speech is sprinkled with Yiddishisms).

Beane based his new play, now at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, on his own first exposure to theater with a band of amateurs in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Genesius Theater of the playwright’s youth is here rechristened The Prometheus, and various characters are composite sketches of people the author knew in the 1970s.

Urie, as Cal, is Beane’s alter-ego, a wide-eyed gay kid from the rich side of the tracks who gets swept up with the loopy personalities in theater-land. We meet Cal first as a successful writer, then via flashback as a gawky suburban 14-year-old inconceivably charged with writing the Prometheus performers a new play.

Director Jerry Zaks (his recent works include Beane’s “Sister Act”) has “adult Cal” set each scene, explaining the taped blocking marks on the floor and so on. It’s surprisingly easy to buy Urie as a teenager, and a treat to see him reunited with LuPone, who appeared as his mother on “Ugly Betty.”

Magnetic as always, LuPone has the hardest job here, as the soul of the company, a group of also-rans in an also-ran city. Her performance is nifty, but Beane’s script finally betrays her.

First, Irene is a seductress, enjoying the disreputable side of being a showgirl; then, she’s a marketing maven, cynically courting a mass audience. Later, she’s an implausibly righteous guardian of “pure” theater, whose righteousness manifests itself in an act so cynical that it doesn’t fit the character as we’ve come to know her. Irene just isn't a coherent creation.

The supporting characters in Cal’s orbit, stereotypes all, include a gravelly voiced lesbian stage manager (Dale Soules, of “Hands on a Hard Body”); a brash, gay African-American actor who is carrying on with a member of local government (Lance Coadie Williams, “BootyCandy”); and a ditzy starlet who blurts out the truth at inopportune moments (Zoe Winters).

There’s a nice turn from Jordan Dean (LCT’s “The New Century”) as a bisexual waiter who inevitably draws Cal’s attention. (LuPone and Williams are pictured, below.)

I went in expecting a comedy, but by the second act the story swerves into dark drama more on a par with “The Nance.” Beane’s plot is missing a necessary coherence, though there are some funny jokes and monologues that certainly make “Shows for Days” a worthwhile undertaking.

“Shows for Days” introduces itself by showing how Car met a passel of theater eccentrics and ends with his adult self rhapsodizing nostalgically over their real-life counterparts' role in making him the pro he is today. Ultimately, it doesn't do enough in between to help us understand how he got from there to here.

“Shows for Days,” through Aug. 23 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 W. 65th St. Tickets: $77-$87. Call 212-239-6200.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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