We first see lights up on a bedroom, perhaps a guest room, in a lavish New York home. Sounds of a party occasionally wander into the simple set, dotted with minimalist art you might either see at a Donald Judd collector’s home, or a Holiday Inn Express. A playwright takes a stance down stageright and starts to recount his walk on the street after seeing his play debut on Broadway. His longtime friend, who rejected the play himself, stands and listens, inspired. On his walk, the playwright ponders if his play will break the cycle of American theatre’s commercialism and import of British talent and spectacle. Furthermore, he describes the warmth in his heart from finally seeing his name, and his work, on a Broadway marquee. Ben Brantley, the infamous New York Times theatre critic, may have other opinions.
Almost Live from the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
It’s Only a Play’s plot is somewhat self-explanatory. A motley crew of actors, a director, a critic, a playwright, a producer, and a coat-boy are flitting around the after-party for the opening of a new Broadway play, The Golden Egg. The characters in this particular theatrical romp are more like those you might find in a sitcom: ridiculous, eccentric, and dripping with ego. In one introductory moment, an actress enters the bedroom set with a jaw-dropping scream, only to swiftly code-switch to politely introduce herself to the man in the room she thought was empty. Minutes later, the same actress is taking a bump of cocaine from her drug-laden purse. These snappy shifts in dialogue and plot are numerous in the production. From the eyes of this audience member, the acting could lean towards presentational, but that generally fits this particular medium. If you’re a fan of satires where the farcical characters take themselves incredibly seriously, like Veep or even The Office, or theatre unapologetically about theatre, like [title of show] or Noises Off, you’ll be quite a fan of this fast-paced McNally piece.
“Thank God They Don’t Review Producers”
One should note that this is a topical show written by a titan of the American stage, Terrence McNally. Therefore, throughout the play there is an absolute litany of quips and joking jabs about actors, plays, movies, and theatre inside knowledge. Those who are not as akin to the lexicon of the Great White Way will likely miss a large portion of the humor in this production, if not almost all of it. However, those constant perusers of Playbill.com will be chuckling practically nonstop. From an endless barrage of ridiculous coats being brought in from the varying Broadway casts (to hilarious effect), to being labeled less masculine than Sean Hayes, there are a lot of juicy bits that McNally leaves to soak in. One particular monologue in which a reviewer lists off a “small handful of young promising playwrights” for almost a full two minutes (your Annie Bakers, Amy Herzogs, Will Enos, etc.) had this playwright/actor on the floor. Unless you’re an NYC theatre-bum, many of the references will fly right over your head; the ones that don’t however, will hit satisfyingly hard.
Pride Films and Plays Packs a Powerhouse
One particular actress in this production makes this show a must see, at least for this viewer. Marika Mashburn plays Julia, a perpetually optimistic producer whose kind-heart and sharp business acumen is only hampered by her uproarious inability to see any wrong choice that she makes. One simple example of this is her committed and earnest delivery of very inaccurate quotes, of which McNally gives her plenty. One should avoid spoiling too many, since they’re absolutely delicious when they come up, but let’s just say that Julia “depends on the kindness of strange people.” Everything from Mashburn’s short stepped and hurried gait, to her offstage exasperation over her reportedly violent pet dog, adds up to create a loveable and endearing comedic character.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
The Broadway at Pride Arts Center
October 17th - November 11th
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3:30 pm
Wednesday November 7th at 7:30 pm