BWW Review: Phoenix Theatre Presents Terrence McNally's IT'S ONLY A PLAY
Neither Douglas Clarke's lavish set nor Paul Black's Broadway-bright lights, neither Connie Furr Soloman's classy and colorful costume design nor a cast comprised of some of the Valley's thespian luminaries can save Terrence McNally's IT'S ONLY A PLAY from its weak legs and gratuitous nastiness. From a bomb (the original version, Broadway, Broadway, never made it out of tryouts), and after multiple revisions, the prolific McNally (famous for a host of hits ~ Love! Valour! Compassion! Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Master Class), fashioned a firecracker that fizzles, every now and then sparked by a singular stand out performance.
It's a spoof that centers (not in a complimentary way) on a gaggle of theatre folks nervously awaiting the opening night reviews of The Golden Egg, a new play written by a very anxious Peter Austin (Pasha Yamotahari); directed by the soon-to-be knighted and flamboyant Frank Finger (Toby Yatso); featuring Virginia Noyes (Debra K. Stevens), a once shining star now eager for a comeback (yet sporting an ankle monitor and dabbling in a variety of pharmaceuticals!); and financed by Julia Budder (Ashley Stults), a hopeful producer with little sense of business (a far cry from Max Bialystock) but lots of money to spend.
Joining the watchful waiting are a snarky James Wicker (Rusty Ferracane), who opted out of a role in Egg in favor a TV series; Ira Drew (D. Scott Withers), a frazzled theater critic with a secret up his sleeve; and Gus Head (Tony Latham), a star-struck hire gathering the coats of the rich and famous celebs partying elsewhere in Budder's opulent town house.
The two-hour production gets its much needed moments of oomph from Toby Yatso, who (demonstrating once again his flair, agility, and artistic acumen) enacts a hand-to-hand (literally) face-off between himself as a young aspiring artist and his less-than-encouraging father; Latham, who is in a constant state of wow and wows the assembled with a long-delayed burst of Defying Gravity; and even the group hugs that reveal the unbreakable and interdependent bonds between playwrights, actors, producers, and critics that combine to create the world of theatre.
If a play, by definition, as one of the characters points out, has a beginning, middle, and end, by the end of this two-hour slog, IT'S ONLY A PLAY, directed by Matthew Weiner, is a vehicle stuck in first gear.
IT'S ONLY A PLAY runs through February 11th at Phoenix Theatre.
Photo credit to Reg Madison