A NEW VERSION OF TERRENCE MCNALLY’S LOVE LETTER TO THE THEATRE IS A HIT, DON’T MISS THIS PARTY
We are all invited to Terrence McNally’s cast party to celebrate the West Coast premiere of IT’S ONLY A PLAY. The party is now on stage through April 1st at the Ed Decker stage at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Directed by Arturo Catricala, he brings seven sharp Bay Area actors to bitch and backstab at the perfect McNally speed. Kuo-Hao Lo’s over the top NY apartment set with steam lined lighting is a show stopper filled with Christopher Daroca’s props of pillows, Deco art, potted plants, shelves full of NY glam, gold phones, plenty of fancy alcohol bottles and a burning fireplace. It's only the first paragraph of my review and I am noting the craft team. It is a great setting to have this after show party.
Founder Artistic Director Ed Decker is a huge fan of Terrence McNally who has a close relationship with the NCTC he says “It’s ONLY A PLAY represents our 13th McNally production for NCTC. After all these years our theatrical love affair with this master playwright is still going strong. I feel so fortunate to be able to continue to bring Terrence’s work to our stages and to share it with all you.”
McNally’s new revised version of this bitch storm comedy brings the story up to date with the current trend setters of Broadway - name dropping is the star of this script with names like Denzel Washington, Bill Gates, Scott Rudin, Babs, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Pacino, Bernadette Peters, Lady Gaga, Tom Stoppard, Steven Spielberg, Liza Minnelli and so many more.
IT'S ONLY A PLAY originally opened off Broadway in 1982 and was revived in 1986. This was a smash again in 2014-15 starring an all-star cast all of A listers, Nathan Lane. Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and Sir F. Murray Abraham. Just having that team on stage bitching about Broadway theatre would be a natural sell out even with out McNally’s witty script. This new revision brings the setting to present day with cell phone texting, contemporary theatre divas and show stopping reviews.
The action takes place in the penthouse suite of producer Julia Budder played by a sweetly elegant Melissa Keith; a rich woman spending a lot of her husband’s money so she can be the solo producer of a play called The Golden Egg and stand alone on stage to accept the play’s probable Tony award. Downstairs there’s a cast party featuring just about every significant name you can think of, including Rudy Giuliani and Rosie O’Donnell, who has been spotted chatting with the Pope. Meanwhile, Julia and a handful of her friends wait for those all important overnight reviews. There’s naive young Gus a starcatcher played by a charming Nicholas Decker, moving coats around and running errands for the famous. Decker who plays the goofy boy with some enthusiasm brings that lost boy filled with dreams, McNally’s best punchlines.
The over the top queen James Wicker is played by the terrific PA Cooley. Wicker stars in a successful West Coast sitcom, and is a friend of the playwright, Peter Austin, played by the elegant Chris Morrell, who originally wanted James as his lead. Thinking this new play would bomb James turned him down. Now Wicker is torn between hoping his choice was wrong and he hasn’t missed a chance for a Tony. Arty and ego based British director Sir Frank Finger is played by the full-throttle Kevin Singer, spiky funny, whenever he is on stage he steals the story. Finger who also loves to “five finger” items from the room as he tells the company that he’s tired of success and feels the need for a soul-cleansing flop.
We also meet the temperamental, classic Broadway diva, Virginia Noyes, played by the impressive Michaela Greeley, complete with ankle bracelet; she has to check in with her parole officer every two hours. And finally, iconic critic Ira Drew played by the dapper Geoffrey Colton. His opinion carries huge weight, but not nearly as much as the words everyone’s awaiting, those of the New York Times’s Ben Brantley. It was fun to read Brantley’s review of this play since he is clearly mocked throughout the comedy.
The Golden Egg might live up to its name as the riot on stage leads up to the reading of its reviews and the snip bitching and hilarious dog barking from the off stage closet. IT'S ONLY A PLAY succeeds it is crazy vicious. McNally’s zingers hit home even if you are not an insider to theatre, and his language is uninhibited. “Who is James Franco, and why is he sexting me?”, “I won’t work with animals, children or Frank Langella”, Gus says “The dog, Torch, he got out and bit that woman who is on TV all the time” “You mean Oprah?” “No the Torch bit Kelly Ripa.” McNally understands the world that he satirizes. He dealt with some rough times before winning a Pulitzer and four Tonys, and there’s a real feeling in his characters’ response to bad reviews including for his own plays.
Director Catricala keeps the two hour romp moving as the seven member cast come and go from the bedroom. The camp and energy from the entire cast leaps into their roles and provide much of the evening’s laughs and fun. Greeley as Virginia has absolutely no redeeming qualities; she’s a walking coke fiend, and her vanity is so huge that it threatens to erase her friends around her. For James, Cooley is brilliant as he channels a hilarious mixture of Nathan Lane Hollywood diva in a show stopping performance. Yet the polished Kevin Singer stops the show in every scene he appears and creates the most neurotic perfection of all McNally's characters. I can’t forget to mention young Decker as Gus who leaps onto the bed and starts singing Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” the moment captures all the absurdity of that dying art form, theater jazz hands.
The craft team brought together a smart look for the set props and lighting, and stage manager Toni Lynn Guidry had a huge challenge to get all the company on stage through the main door to this NY party. Gus always loaded down with celebrity jackets and Gaga’s sizzle and spikes. Christian Mejia’s lighting is bright and spots the crom look of Lo’s brillant set. Keri Fitch costumes are all glam gowns; the high light is Virginia’s red dress suit, and Frank Finger’s red and black tux highlighted by his red scarf. Writer Austin’s style white tux gives him the subtext of any hope for his new play. Dialect Coach Patricia Reynoso kept Singer’s and Greely’s tone British perfect as sound designer James Ard brings the roar of the downstairs party more rage, and the spikey barking dog off stage who makes a surprise appearance.
Most of us know the feelings of emotions we experience when waiting on news that could make or break us and McNally does a fun take in portraying that nerve-wracking stress. The on stage party is emotional at times but with not much of a story its pure backstabbing fun. With this talented cast, NCTC production of ITS ONLY A PLAY is a charming love letter to the theatre and anyone who loves it. Next up at NCTC is another regional premiere from the writer of Showtimes “Master of Sex” Bathsheba Doran’s THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX opens April 13th. In the mean don’t miss the party at the Ed Decker Stage.
NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER PRESENTS
IT’S ONLY A PLAY
BY TERRENCE MCNALLY
Directed by Arturo Catricala
Must close April 1, 2018
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Running time 2 hours - with one intermission
25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA.
Tickets are $25-$50, and can be purchased at nctcsf.org
Box office at 415-861-8972.
Photo’s by Kuo Hao Lo and Lois Tema.
Featuring Chris Morrell (Peter Austin), Melissa Keith (Julia Budder), Geoffrey Colton (Ira Drew), Kevin Singer (Frank Finger), Michaela Greeley (Virginia Noyes), P.A. Cooley (James Wicker), and Nicholas Decker (Gus P. Head).
Scenic design by Kuo Hao Lo, Costume design by Keri Fitch, Lighting design by Christian Mejia, Sound design by James Ard, Prop design by Chris Daroca, Stage management by Toni Lynn Guidry