BWW Review: IT'S ONLY A PLAY at Theatre Tallahassee
I have to hand it to Terrence McNally. It's Only a Play was not an instant success, not by a long shot.
As most passionate artists who end up succeeding do, though, he persevered.
Theatre Tallahassee's version of It's Only a Play, directed by Matthew Watson, gives us as audience members the opportunity to observe the angst, ecstasy, exhaustion, and a multitude of other emotions experienced by a group of people with various motives to care about the production's outcome.
The group: producer Julia Budder (played by Alaina Rahaim), lead actress Virginia Noyes (played by Leslie Gray), director Frank Finger (played by Melbin Borrero III), critic Ira Drew (played by Andrew Barclay), writer Peter Austin (played by Daniel Gray), Austin's friend James Wicker (played by Bob Myers), and fresh-off-the bus (train?) to the city Gus (played by Michelle Gershon) are all gathered upstairs at the producer's home as a party takes place below and they await the reviews of The Golden Egg after its debut.
My first reaction after leaving the show? I wish I could see it again. There are so many nuanced references, especially theatre- and culture-specific. It was difficult to keep up with them and frustrating (in a good way) to hear audience members laughing at references that were lost on me.
I immediately related to Gus, having taken my own odyssey to New York City to take a bite out of the Big Apple when I was younger. I almost lost my luggage immediately when someone tried to trick me into turning over my luggage, so her explanation of how she ended up being the coat girl, and the guy who was going to "help" her get ahead resonated with me. Michelle Gerson's Gus's ebullience was contagious; she could barely contain her energy as she quite literally hopped around the room.
As James Wicker, Bob Myers provided a consistently steady presence. Like the others, he had his moments of highs and lows, but compared to some of the other histrionics, his performance skewered toward "even." A show like this needs that; otherwise it's like watching pinball, with the ball rarely stopping to rest.
Leslie Gray had me convinced she was on the edge, between worrying about her ankle monitor going off mid-show, indulging in various substances, and the underlying desperation to still matter as an artist.
Melbin Borrero III as director Frank Finger demonstrated the broadest, most riveting over-the-top moments. Who wants to fail? Apparently this man. When he finally hears the reviews, though, he is as surprised as anyone about his reaction.
Alaina Rahaim's Julia Budder, the producer, was hilariously flighty. Her performance had a lightness and lack of self-absorption that counterbalanced the extreme self-centeredness of some of the other characters.
As critic Ira Drew, Andrew Barclay presented a man who was difficult to figure out, who had complex motives beyond reviewing plays. One of the most interesting exchanges he had in the show was with writer Peter Austin, who said about plays: "I write them; you critique them." Turns out neither one of them believed that in a cut-and-dried way.
Doesn't every writer want their production to be a success? Like Terrence McNally, Peter Austin undoubtedly hoped to repeat his prior success with The Golden Egg's debut. There were also issues working themselves out throughout the show between Peter and James, who was experiencing mainstream television success.
The physical comedy in this show added an enjoyable element. There were times the entire ensemble was involved, but Frank Finger and Peter Austin individually shone in the physical comedy arena.
Timing has to be precise for a comedy like this to work, and this cast had excellent control of the timing.
As a side note, the pre-show and intermission soundtrack was fun, too, incorporating Broadway favorites chosen to align with the play's theme.
If you are trying to decide whether to attend this show, this is my advice:
The cast is outstanding, and the show is fun. I think it will appeal most to people who are true theatre aficionados (or who are willing to accept that some of the finer points will be over their heads). You need to enjoy farce and be willing to pay close attention to the show's details (and be okay with delayed gratification - the entire first half involves quite a bit of set-up establishing relationships and personalities).
Go see It's Only a Play.
The word "only" may be in the title, but there are many elements of this show that will keep you thinking long after you leave.
It's Only a Play runs through November 19, 2017. Contact Theatre Tallahassee for ticket information.
Photo Credit: Caroline V. Sturtz