Richard and I went to see *It’s Only a Play* on October 14th. It’s a play by Terrence McNally - - this is its Broadway debut, but it was originally written in 1978. The play takes place in the bedroom of Julia Budder, the producer of a new play that opened that night on Broadway. The opening night party is happening downstairs. McNally has updated the play, tarted it up with lots of contemporary references (*Matilda*, Riverdance, Lady Gaga, etc), but it’s got your standard theatrical comedy shtick, which I suppose is timeless.
The show opens with Gus bringing a pile of coats into the room and dumping them on the bed. He’s a young actor who arrived in New York that morning and met a guy who found him this job and offered him a place to stay (ahem). Gus was played by Micah Stock in his Broadway debut.
The other characters arrive one by one, and since they’re played by stars, they each get a big hand at their entrance. Richard LOATHES this kind of thing. He says we only applaud them because they’re famous, they haven’t done anything yet. But it doesn’t bother me - - it’s a comedy, and the play is built in a way where it feels like the actor is making an Entrance. If it were *King Lear* and the audience was doing this, I would be bothered.
Nathan Lane came in first. He played the best friend of the playwright - - he played the lead in the playwright’s first hit, and has spent the last nine years in Los Angeles, in a sitcom. He was offered the lead in this new play, but thought the play was lousy. Lane was amazing. Peerless comic timing, laugh-out-loud line readings, real verve. He works hard but doesn’t let you see him sweat. He, more than anyone else, elevated the show.
Stockard Channing played the leading lady in the play, a movie star crawling back to Broadway. Her performance that night was marred by her ankle monitor going off in the middle of the show. She was snorting coke when she told this story. I don’t see the humor in either of these things, but whatever. Channing had the grandezza of a leading lady and delivered the goods, but her plastic surgery has made her face moderately immobile. An actor’s face is an essential part of their instrument, why do they do this?
F. Murray Abraham played a critic. It’s not clear why he’s in the inner sanctum of the opening night party, but he contributes a lot to the action, so there you are. He got one of the biggest laughs of the show: at the end of the first act the playwright leads everyone in a prayer, asking God for his special attention for each of the people in the room. When he got to the critic, Abraham pulled a yarmulke out of his pocket, put it on, fell to his knees, and started davening. Why is this funny and not the coke-snorting or the ankle monitor? I think it’s because Abraham really sold the bit.
Megan Mullaly played the producer of the play and hostess of the party. She looks good and is a skilled comic actor, but the combination of her little girl voice and intermittent Southern accent made about a third of her dialogue unintelligible. And her character’s constant misquoting of famous lines and sayings got tiresome. I could see those coming a mile away.
Rupert Grint played the director, the hot young English director of the moment. He had very little to do, and did it well. He dropped his pants on his entrance and I was surprised at how muscular his thighs are. He had a bit in the second act where he pulled a puppet out of his jacket pocket and had a fight with his father, through the puppet. This moment was a dud. It wasn’t funny, it didn’t make dramatic sense, and I couldn’t understand what he was saying when he was speaking as the puppet.
Matthew Broderick played the playwright. His performance was very one note. This is less apparent in a musical, where he is given actual notes to sing. He had the final bow, so I guess he’s supposed to be the star of the show, but Nathan Lane should have been given that honor.
Is it wrong to say that Micah Stock, as Gus the coat check boy, was the best thing onstage? He had my favorite joke in the show - - he came in carrying a scummy-looking denim jacket and said, “Shia LaBoeuf just got here!” and left. He came in four minutes later and walked out with the denim jacket, saying, “Shia LaBoeuf is leaving. He’s under arrest!” He was hilarious and adorable, and totally killed in his a cappella performance of “Defying gravity” from *Wicked*.
My review makes it sound like a pretty bad show, which isn’t really true. I enjoyed the show, but I found myself wanting to laugh more than I actually laughed.