This review of Terrence McNally's It's Only A Play at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
It's Only A Play
Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
It's Only A Play was revised from an unsuccessful play entitled Broadway, Broadway, also written by Terrence McNally, that closed during tryouts in Philadelphia in 1978. The new, retitled version was first produced Off-Off Broadway by Manhattan Punch Line at the Actors & Directors Theatre in November 1982. The play was revived Off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at its New York City Center Stage 1, with previews starting December 17, 1985 and running from January 11-26, 1986. Not content to let this play die a natural death, McNally wrote yet another revised version, which was produced by the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson at the Doolittle Theatre, Los Angeles, California in April 1992. McNally rewrote the play again and this production opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in previews on August 28, 2014, officially opening on October 9, 2014. It transferred to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on January 23, 2015 and ran through June 7, 2015. Now you have the opportunity to see it at Studio Theatre Long Island, where It's Only A Play runs through November 20, 2016.
The plot involves a group of theatre insiders attending an opening night party for The Golden Egg, a play written by Peter Austin (Ed Huether) and produced by Julia Budder (Joanne Rispoli), a wealthy first-time Broadway producer. Many celebrities are present at the party but the "inner circle" have gathered together in a room in Budder's Manhattan Penthouse to await the reviews, especially the influential one expected to be published in The New York Times. Also in attendance are Frank Finger (George Ghossn), the "genius" British Director (and thief) who thinks he has been unduly praised and is hoping his directorial skills will be panned; Virginia Noyes (Janine Haire), the Leading Actress (and drug abuser) who hopes this play will signal her comeback; James Wicker (Scott Earle), the extremely effeminate gay actor (it is said Charles Nelson Reilly was more masculine - an inside joke since in the Los Angeles production, Reilly actually did play the part of James Wicker) who turned down the role of Leading Man in The Golden Egg since he thought the play his friend wrote "was a piece of shit"; Ira Drew (David Dubin), a Critic who secretly writes plays under a pseudonym; Gus P. Head (Nathaniel Portier), the illiterate, wannabe Broadway star from Kansas, who currently checks coats and hats; and Emma (RoseMarie Amato), a no-nonsense taxi driver who inexplicably announces the arrival of The New York Times and then plants herself on a couch and starts offering people her common sense advice.
If you were being kind, you could say the play features a number of interesting characters. But if you were being honest, you would more likely have to admit the play has no real point to it. Egotistic, needy, insecure people, desperate for recognition and approval, wait for a review. After being momentarily depressed by the negative nature of the review, they bounce back and plan to put on their next play in the same theatre. So what if the actors won't have the time to learn their lines - the show must go on! It is time for Terrence McNally to take this play out of circulation and burn all remaining copies of the script. Another major rewrite would be necessary for this play to become even mildly entertaining. There is hope. There was a reference to men sitting around in the basement of the theatre doing nothing but drinking and playing cards. When an inquiry was made, it was learned they were union stagehands and musicians mandatorily hired due to the terms of union contracts that require producers to hire a certain number of people, whether or not they are needed. More relevant and insightful writing could save this play but it would be more merciful just to take it out behind the barn and shoot it.
In its current form, the play is trite and uninspired. It is full of hackneyed expressions such as when someone told Gus, "You are not in Kansas anymore." Really? Is that the best you can do, Mr. McNally? The aging actress Virginia Noyes is heard to say, "I stayed as young as I could for as long as I could." In the play, McNally reveals that Mr. Budder got "mugged in the restroom at Sardi's" (is that what he thinks will get a laugh from the audience?). Another "humorous" line is when he has Virginia knock previews by saying that only "nurses, nuns & nitwits" go to them. Emma, the cab driver, tells the insecure playwright that audiences just want to be told an interesting story that will allow them to escape from their everyday lives. She says to him, "Imagine we are kids sitting around a campfire - take us somewhere!"). Is this advice to be taken seriously? Is a New York City cab driver the new "playwright whisperer"? Finally, the name of the play comes from the following line spoken by one of the minor characters after observing all the madness and emotional ups and downs of the evening: "What is wrong with these people. After all, it's only a play."
All the actors do a fine job in their respective roles. In fact, it is the only reason I would recommend you see this production of It's Only A Play. The standout performer, in my view, is Ed Huether, a talented and charismatic actor who plays Peter Austin. Sunday matinees at Studio Theatre Long Island are also particularly pleasant due to the efforts of Arlene Meli, the House Manager, who offers attendees free coffee, tea, cakes and fruit prior to the show. The funniest line in the play is a derogatory reference to Long Island Theater, which "produces plays that have worn out their welcome in New York City, are performed by actors not talented enough to be hired for a show in Manhattan, and are seen by people who can't afford to buy a ticket for a Broadway show."
You can catch It's Only A Play on Friday, November 18th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, November 19th at 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 20th at 2:30 p.m. for only $25.00 a ticket. You can buy them online at www.studiotheatreli.com or by calling 631-226-8400.