Broadway Review: "It's Only A Play"

by Chris Peterson, OnStage Editor-in-Chief Terrance McNally's "It's Only A Play" is a statement on vanity, a critique on today's Broadway, a non stop barrage of one-liners. Unfortunately, it's not much of a play. Instead, the man behind such iconic works such as Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Master Class, gives us what otherwise could be a 2 1/2 hour Saturday Night Live sketch. That's not to say it isn't funny.

McNally, along with director Jack O'Brien, keep the laughter continuous with hilarious and sometimes malicious digs aimed towards the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Harvey Fierstein , Shia LaBeouf and even former star Nathan Lane. The story is thin. It's opening night of The Golden Egg and its producer, director, writer, cast and party guests are anxiously awaiting the reviews ,especially the one from the feared(and overrated) Ben Brantley of the New York Times. Act One is spent waiting for the review, Act Two is spent reacting to the review, then curtain. 

The production does feature some fantastic performances. Micah Stock is a real find. As coat boy Gus, Mr. Stock is hilarious and chews every bit of scenery when on stage. Also turning in a fine performance is Katie Finneran as first time producer, Julia. Ms. Finneran delivers mis-quoted songs and idioms with charm. The performance I saw was the second night of Martin Short's run as James Wicker, which Nathan Lane held previously. Mr. Short brought his usual flair and comedic style to the role. From his facial contortions to a hint at Ed Grimley,  Mr. Short carried this production.

The appeal of working with McNally and Jack O'Brien must have been the lure for Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham to accept such meatless roles. Ms. Channing does a fine job as a rebounding actress with legal problems and Mr. Abraham as the lone critic brave enough to be in the room. Maulik Pancholy also gives a strong, if not short, performance as director of this fictional play.

But the biggest problem with the performance I saw was with its biggest star, Matthew Broderick. In all fairness, I was told he was recovering from having the flu a couple of days before, but Mr. Broderick was came off so wooden and lacked so much charisma, that I wondered if he should have been performing that night to begin with. As playwright Peter Austin, Mr. Broderick's role had the most to work with, yet his delivery was so devoid of what some call "acting". While I applaud anyone for toughing it out to perform, in some cases it might be better to step aside and let your standby handle it.

All in all it was a highly entertaining production. While not even close to his best work, McNally proves once again he has the bravery to go after everyone on Broadway and at times even himself.

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