The Confession of Lily Dare

“Will you be the one to judge her?”

By Andrew Andrews

Nancy Anderson and Charles Busch in Primary Stages' production of Busch's The Confession of Lily Dare at Cherry Lane Theatre. Original photos by Carol Rosegg.

In the early 1900s, a young lady named Lily Dare, played by author Charles Busch, arrives at the doorstep of a San Francisco whorehouse run by her long lost aunt.

Lily's mother passed away while the daughter was in boarding school in Europe, leaving no money to continue her education, and no next of kin other than the madame.

Comically rebounding from one tragic mishap after another, Lily develops a secret that she takes with her nearly to the grave.

The Confession of Lily Dare traces the ups and downs of that forty-four year rags-to-riches journey, in the form of a parody of an old-time black & white movie.

Kendal Sparks, Charles Busch, Christopher Borg, Nancy Anderson, Jennifer Van Dyck and Howard McGillin.

Full of perfectly-timed, masterfully-crafted one-liners from start to finish, this play had the audience—myself included—cracking up again and again.

Sparing the over-the-top lampooning of a full-on drag show, Busch's portrayal of Lily Dare is both comedic and melodramatic, yet never too campy or cliché.

The story itself is classic, and could easily be performed as a drama. The fact that this talented company can extract so much laughter primarily from their gestures and tone is a tribute not only to the actors, but the director and playwright as well.

Long-time subscribers know that I'm generally not pleased when more than one role is assigned to a single player, and two members of this team had to perform nine parts between them. However, as was the case with my recent review of Romeo & Bernadette, the multiplos in this situation were all so ridiculous that it didn't bother me in the least.

The second half of this story is notably more serious than the first, but by that point we were so invested in the characters and their plot that we didn't need as much gut-busting as we’d undergone before intermission.

I'm not sure how this production would be received by younger generations, but the audience at my performance (who were mostly my age or older) certainly seemed to share my appreciation of its delivery.


Andrew Andrews attended The Confession of Lily Dare at Cherry Lane Theatre Mainstage in Manhattan on Sunday, January 26, 2020 @ 3:00pm to write this review.