Originally produced Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 and again Off-Broadway in 1986, It’s Only a Play by Terrence McNally was updated for Broadway in 2014. This revised version of the play, now on the boards at Theatre in the Park, boasts a cast that is a Who’s Who of North Carolina theater.
The changes in the Broadway version of the play primarily deal with name-dropping of comedic unseen party guests. Most of the bits worked, although a few seemed a bit forced. There were also a few anachronisms regarding the changes in telephone technology.
The plot follows a group of insecure and egomaniacal narcissists as they wait for the reviews of the premiere of a new Broadway play, The Golden Egg, at the home of the wealthy first-time producer. No one’s angst is overlooked, including that of actors, actresses, playwrights, directors, and hangers-on.
As a playwright and reviewer, I was particularly amused by the changing tide of fawning and backstabbing among the overstressed characters. Particularly enjoyable was local legend Lynda Clark in the role of Virginia Noyes, a fading and none-too-sober actress, making a comeback to the stage.
Nathaniel Conti’s set had a very New York feel as a space in which any society gathering could take place. Indeed, it was almost a character in itself. The set was reminiscent of Auntie Mame’s Beekman Place apartment, filled with free-spirited theater people. Also standing out in the technical arts is the lighting design of Kenny Hertling.
This is a particularly tricky play for actors, because the characters are all a bit over-the-top. The members of the cast all handled their roles with the perfect level of touch, so as to not go into campiness. Brian Westbrook as Peter Austin and Ira David Wood IV displayed additional deftness for physical comedy.
During much of the first act, there are two to three characters on stage simultaneously. The play truly hits its stride late in the first act and throughout the second, when all of the characters are present. The speeches are a bit snappier, as is the pace.
Of special note to Triangle theater insiders, Ira Wood, playing the brilliant director of the play-within-a-play, has a scene with a cathartic episode relating to his father. The fact that this very theater is named for the actor’s own father, Ira David Wood III, made this scene particularly delectable.
For fans of Terrence McNally, this is a banner month. Less than three miles from the Theatre in the Park, McNally’s Master Class is running at the Theatre Raleigh. It would make for a fabulous double-header for any serious fan or student of his work.
At one point during this production, a character lists some of the giants of Broadway playwriting, including Harold Pinter, Neil Simon, and Tennessee Williams. When this play was written in 1982, Terrence McNally could only hope to be mentioned in this group. Last night, he should have been included.
I wholeheartedly recommend this experience.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 11th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9078; and July 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article215505405.html.
Theatre In The Park presents IT’S ONLY A PLAY at 3 p.m. Aug. 12, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16-18, 3 p.m. Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24-25, and 3 p.m. Aug. 26 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 ($18 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $16-per-person for groups of 10 or more.
INFORMATION: 919-831-6058. SHOW: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/its-only-a-play.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/202035697312124/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04sijou0ZoE&feature=youtu.be.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
It’s Only A Play: A Comedy (1982 Off-Off-Broadway, 1986 Off-Broadway, and 2014 Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1099 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1829 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/its-only-a-play-497341 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_Only_a_Play (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Terrence McNally (playwright): http://www.terrencemcnally.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3116 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/terrence-mcnally-8828 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0573645/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrence_McNally (Wikipedia).
Jesse R. Gephart (director): http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/394495-jesse-gephart (About the Artists bio).
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.