In Terrence McNally’s delightful comedy “It’s Only a Play,” the play is the thing. And this particular play is very focused on the theater world, Broadway in particular. Amid name dropping and one-liners, a little bit of wisdom emerges about what those of us who love theater want from it.
“Life — lots and lots of life. We want to laugh. We want to cry. We want to feel something about who we are. Take us somewhere. We’ll go with you. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece.”
Despite a script focused more on jokes than on plot or character development, this is exactly what “It’s Only a Play” offers. And if not a masterpiece, it’s a huge success at Farmers Alley, thanks to clever direction and terrific performances.
It’s opening night of a brand new Broadway show, and the neurotic major players — the playwright, director, producer, and actress, as well as an actor who passed up a part in the show, a critic and an aspiring actor — convene in the first-time producer’s Upper East Side home to anxiously await the reviews away from the soiree taking place downstairs. The critical reception rolls in throughout the second act and hits every single one of the characters in their most tender places, which, in turn, catalyzes the kind of gloves-off, earrings-out fights that make for deliciously funny moments and leads to layers upon layers of meta would-be play-within-the-play moments.
“It’s Only a Play” was a flop in its first iteration as “Broadway, Broadway” in Philadelphia in the late ’70s, and McNally rewrote it to open on Broadway in the 1980s only to revise it again for its Broadway revival in 2014, starring the likes of Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Stockard Channing and Matthew Broderick.
The Kalamazoo cast may not be such recognizable stars (yet), but they were brilliantly chosen for their parts by enormously talented comedic director David Alpert, a New York-based director and Western Michigan University grad whose work was most recently seen in Southwest Michigan last summer in “Fully Committed” at Mason Street Warehouse and at Farmers Alley in “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” in 2015.
The ensemble of larger-than-life characters here complement each other beautifully and there’s no dead weight slowing down the tremendously quick timing in this two-hour show. Though they’re each intense and over-the-top in their own ways, in such capable hands they each also come off not as caricatures, but as real and natural and oh-so-funny to watch. Every nuance, every movement, every facial gesture is gold.
Kate Thomsen is wonderful as the wealthy, ditzy producer who doesn’t really know what she’s doing and screws up every idiomatic expression that comes out of her mouth; Aral Gribble is delightfully neurotic as the anxiety-ridden playwright, and has terrific chemistry with the warm and charming Vince Kracht, who plays his betraying best friend; Michael Scheidt is fun to hate as the despicable “most vicious critic in New York City,” with his devilish laugh and false belief that he’s an insider; and Dwight L. Trice, Jr. gives a tremendous no-holds-barred performance as the narcissistic kleptomaniacal director who wants nothing more than to fail.
It all unfolds in an elegant penthouse space created by George Eric Perry with lights by Katie Gruenhagen. Music and nicely chosen sound cues by Garrett Gagnon and costumes by Lissa Hartridge and Sarah Maurer complete this utterly convincing privileged New York picture.
Sure, “It’s Only a Play” is indeed only a play, but it’s a damn fine and funny one, well worth seeing.
It’s Only a Play
Farmers Alley Theatre