It's Only a Play opened this past weekend at First Presbyterian Theater, and it is hilarious fun whether audience members are involved in the theater or not.
The entire play takes place in the luxurious bedroom of the Julia Budder, first-time producer of a Broadway play titled The Golden Egg, as she and the writer, director, star and others, including a TV star and a critic, nervously await the reviews of the play after its opening night performance.
Gus, who manages the coats of the opening-night party going on downstairs, is enjoying his first night in New York City and often seems to be the only character on the stage with his feet on the ground. He's as green as can be, and the way he interacts with the others, especially flamboyant TV star James Wicker, is a hoot.
In addition to a neurotic dog locked in the bathroom, we meet the owners of huge egos hiding out in Julia's bedroom. Virginia Noyes, a fading star with an ankle bracelet due to serving probation for unclear crimes and a purse full of narcotics, is hoping the play brings her back to A-list status. Frank Finger, a British director who has known only critical acclaim for his efforts, is hoping to be panned. Playwright Peter Austin waxes poetic as he haughtily considers his own self-imagined role as America's next Eugene O'Neill. Critic Ira Drew has managed entrance to the bedroom with ulterior motives.
The script of the play by Terrence McNally, originally written in 1978, was updated by the playwright and was revived in 2015 by a cast including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing and Megan Mullally. The updated version includes references to Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and a host of other celebrities, and it sparkles.
The actors are exceptionally well chosen for this production. Due to the plot and the focus on ego and affirmation thereof, I feel I should mention all cast members. Gus P. Head is played endearingly by Mason Hunter. Jim Nelson brings the right (and high) level of cattiness to the role of James Wicker. Nancy Kartholl is a delight to watch as Virginia Noyes. Julia Budder's dingbat lines and naiveté are well delivered by Pam Good. Jim Matusik has a great time as critic Ira Drew and is super funny. Todd Frymier has a terrific voice for showing the roller-coaster of emotions experienced by arrogant playwright Peter Austin.
The set of this production is elegant, perhaps the most elaborate I have seen at FPT in recent years, and serves the actors well. Costumes are just right, too. Direction and design by Christopher J. Murphy is consistently solid.
As a reviewer, watching a play about the narcissists involved in the production of a play and who truly care about the reviews of it is great fun. Fort Wayne, of course, is a much different market than Broadway, so the role of reviews here is different. In a city where no more than three or four productions are available at any given time, we few reviewers, of course, do not have the power to open or close a play. If we did, I would honestly say It's Only a Play should have a long run. Maybe the ego level of the characters has influenced me a bit, but I hope the cast and crew of this FPT production are gathered together to read this review over a bottle (or five) of champagne and breathe a sigh of relief over this one little review.
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February 8 • Paramount Theatre, Anderson, IN