Review: 'It's Only a Play' at Simply Theatre

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

It’s a show about a flop that is in fact a hit. If you want a blurb that’s probably not the one you would use but in the theme of the show, I had to attempt to offer my own marquee quote. 

Terrance McNally’s newest play – conveniently titled “It’s Only a Play” follows some key players at the opening night gala of a new Broadway play. “The Golden Egg” is an unprecedented flop but the latest production by Simply Theatre at the Pumphouse is an absolute laugh-riot for all the right reasons.

The Joyce Doolittle is transformed, under director Dorin McIntosh’s clear and clean vision, into the bedroom of a lavish producer’s townhouse where everyone inadvertently finds drama, hope, and complete and utter despair through the watchful eye of the theatre gods. I walked into this two act comedy expecting to enjoy myself and I did not leave disappointed. It’s a play about a play which eventually becomes a play; it’s an inside look at the lives of theatre people – something entertaining and relatable to every actor, playwright, director, and theatre enthusiast in the audience. What’s not to love?

I have to start by giving props to the props department. Yes that was a pun, get used to it. Margaret Harper and Sheldon Schnaar created some incredible pieces. Every moving part had a function and fit well with the setting. What more could a girl ask for?

The sound and lighting design by Andrew Simon was very practical. It made sense to have warm, bright lighting that never changed – however as the night went on and other light sources invaded, I would have liked to see movement. I appreciated the multiple “party noise” tracks so we weren’t hearing the same sound over and over again although I think, as the night went on, the amount of guest murmur should have grown and shrunk.

Donna Barnfield – in addition to starring as the night’s leading lady – created stunning costumes for Simply’s third production of the season. Enviably gorgeous coats, dazzlingly dapper suits, and two women in well-fitted, character-appropriate gowns created an absolutely glamorous painting to fall in love with.

A perfect match for the talented cast of actors telling such an outrageous story. 

First, is the incomparable Donna Barnfield as Virginia Noyes, the worn out actress making her big Broadway comeback after film and drugs took over her life. Donna is an absolute delight to watch, playing such as a sassy and weathered woman with grace.

Next we come to the eccentric British director Frank Finger, played by Jerod Blake. I was absolutely amazing by the energy and focus Jerod created with this character. I could not take my eyes off of him. 

Oh, and Cody Field played such a perfect Gus P. Head; young and eager for just an opportunity to shine. Cody charmed my pants off. His enthusiasm and sincere attitude was equally stereotypical and precious. He stole my heart. As did the Theatre critic Ira Drew, played by Christopher Heatherington who played a tired but earnest lover of the arts sitting on the outside looking in.

Next is Dale Hirlehey as James Wicker, beloved TV actor and best friend to the playwright. I loved his dry and deadpan humour, it kept a nice balance between all the waring personalities. Most dynamically was the illustrious playwright, Peter Austin, played by James Noonan. I found James to be dashingly sincere and yet believably overdramatic.

And now we come to Ginette Simonot’s portrayal of Julia Budder, first time producer and the proverbial glue that holds the group together. What can I say: Ginette played sweet, honest, and eager to please with such fun and energy. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with this cast.

Simply Theatre has brought Calgary yet another fantastic story of drama, perseverance, and hi-jinks. I loved every moment.

Photo: Simply Theatre