Review by Adam Cohen . . .
Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play is the theatrical equivalent of Snapchat – there for a quick flash, fair amount of mugging, some jaw-dropping laughter. The production at the George Street Playhouse is buoyant and induces steady hardy laughter. It is a fun valentine to theater for theater lovers with a penchant for backstage drama.
Come observe the angst, ecstasy, exhaustion, and other emotions experienced by a group of people with various motives to care about a Broadway production’s opening night outcome. Will the show get good reviews? Can relationships withstand jealousy and insecurity?
The play’s up-to-the-minuteness and name-dropping is amusing. The punchlines fly faster than germs of a sneeze. There’s a wonderful charm and brashness to the cast with some notable depth of character. Greg Cuellar as the play-with-a-play’s director Frank Finger fares well. His quest for a failure after years of boy genius is hysterical. He swiftly vacillates from doom and gloom to ego-driven ecstasy. His performance is grounded. Kristine Nielsen has the time of her life as the ankle bracelet, drug prone lead actress Virginia Noyes.
Each character is introduced in his or her turn with McNally loading the dialogue with jokes aplenty to wind up the comic mainspring of plot: “The theater has become the Statue of Liberty for movie actors: ‘Give us your tired, your poor, your washed-up, your strung-out.’”
The directors keep the pace antic and McNally’s satiric targets large: the influx of British shows, actors who leave the theater to do bad television, critics who secretly want to write plays, and anybody who lives outside the Big Apple. (“New York without the theater is… Newark.”) No joke is too lame that it can’t be repeated a half-dozen times (a character named Wicker mistakenly called Wacker) and flogged mercilessly.
Directors Kevin Calhoun and Colin Hanlon steer the production with sure hands, keeping the wit rolling and the comedy tumbling along. Sight gags aplenty with luminary party arrivals identified by their coats (creative and witty costume design by Alejo Vietti). David L. Arsenault’s set is a well-appointed bedroom, warmly lit by Alan C. Edwards.
This fast-paced farce with sidesplitting digs at everyone and everything. The updated script (from the 1980’s original) nips at the heels of many of today’s famous, near-famous, and infamous – along with a poke at today’s celebrity-driven followers. At the same time, absurdity abounds as everything theatrical is put under McNally’s comic microscope. The talented ensemble cast bursts with enthusiasm, snark, and solid timing.
It’s always a good time to laugh with a crowd in a theater and this warm, funny production is a welcome invitation to return to George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick and enjoy oneself. Additional cast members include Patrick Richwood, Doug Harris, Lindsey Nicole Chambers, Triney Sandoval and Mark Junek. The play runs until December 19.
Tickets and more information at georgestreetplayhouse.org
Photos – T. Charles Erickson