Donald Trump ... Daniel Radcliffe ... the entire cast of Hamilton! These are just a few of the famous characters populating the party at the center of FPT's latest comedy, It's Only a Play. Well...sort of. These and other celebrity guests may never make it upstairs where our story unfolds, but from serenades (by Liza) to sexts (James Franco, of course), audiences are in for an evening of hilarious name-dropping. This is First Presbyterian Theater: Pop Culture Edition.
The party in question is celebrating the opening of Peter Austen's newest Broadway play. On hand are his dim producer, a wisecracking TV star, the play's outlandish leading lady (complete with ankle monitor), its spoiled Brit director, an infamous critic, a starry-eyed coat check boy and a family pet straight out of Cujo. Egos (over)inflate, tempers flare and nerves crack as they wait for their fates to be decided by the opening night critics.
Terrence McNally (Ragtime, The Full Monty) first wrote Broadway, Broadway in 1978. It was an instant ... flop. Rewritten and re-titled, It's Only a Play found increasing success during revivals in 1982, 1986 and 1992 before a 2014 Broadway production starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick finally turned the 36-year-old chestnut into an "overnight" smash.
A friend and I were lucky enough to see that revival, and when the curtain came down at intermission, our faces hurt from laughing so hard. Not only was the latest incarnation of this script as sharp as its character's claws, the story had, I think, finally found its time and audience.
In 1978, putting yourself out there for public consumption (and criticism) was the purview of celebrities. Today, thanks to the internet, we are all stars of our own little reality shows - in search of attention and approval. We post a selfie and find ourselves checking its number of "likes" at every stoplight (or so I've heard). So in 2016, when an audience watches Peter Austen and company anxiously read a review on their iPhones, it's relatable. We all live and die by a daily tally of comments, hearts and thumbs up.
Having directed The Fox on the Fairway, The Foreigner and last season's Escanaba in da Moonlight, I'm thrilled to bring our own version of this outrageous comedy to life at FPT. Our extraordinary cast reunites many familiar faces: Jim Nelson, Jim Matusik and Mason Hunter (all from Escanaba), Todd Frymier (The Fox on the Fairway, Les Miz, etc.), FPT favorite Nancy Kartholl (in a very different role from her latest turn in Wit), plus returning vet Pam Good and newcomer Michael Coale. Like the characters they portray on stage, they bring boundless passion and humor to the theater every night (but with mercifully less drinking and in-fighting).
For all its celebrity name-dropping and rarefied atmosphere, It's Only a Play is a comedy for our times and for everyone living in them. It's alternately raucous, ridiculous and tender. My fondest hope is that it makes your face hurt from laughter. We're not looking to change the world this time around. After all, it's only a play.
The play previews Thursday, September 8 at 7:30 p.m. (all seats $12) and runs Fridays and Saturdays, September 9-24 at 7:30 p.m., with one 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, September 18. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for patrons age 65-plus and free for full-time students with reservations. Box office hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and one hour prior to every performance. You can also buy tickets at www.firstpresbyteriantheater.com.