The 1980s Broadway theater community, known all too well by award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, came to life on the stage of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre recently in It's Only a Play, presented in conjunction with The NOLA Project. (McNally updated the work in 2014 so celebrity names, cultural references and personalities seem con- temporary.) A show bus- iness parody, the cast is a collection of dramatic egotists gathering for an opening night gala at the producer's home. As the playwright, the producer, the director, an actress, a friend, a drama critic and a coat check person anxiously await New York newspaper reviews, their personal eccentricities are in plain sight.
McNally's insider one-liners are uproariously funny, and the comedians perform their roles with gusto, evidently because the conversations are so familiar. The comedic talents of Ricky Graham and Sean Patterson are complemented by Leslie Castay and NOLA Project ensemble members who display a flair for farce.
McNally arrived in Manhattan a starry-eyed young man much like the character Gus P. Head (Alex Ates), who accepts a one-night job catering to the whims of the theater set. Head was hired to take coats and mix drinks but continually tries to turn his temporary assignment into an impromptu audition. In the producer's bedroom, he meets James Wicker (Graham), best friend of the playwright, Peter Austin (Patterson). Wicker refused the leading role after reading the flawed script, and after seeing the premiere, he believes The Golden Egg might receive a "death blow."
In a lengthy, name-dropping phone conversation with his agent in California, Wicker disparages the production's acting, direction, scenery, costumes and script while telling his friend he loves the show. Austin is convinced the play is a huge hit and compares himself to Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill. The female lead, Virginia Noyes (Castay), fields repeated phone calls from her California parole officer while snorting coke and chugging Champagne to celebrate her return to the bright lights. Noyes' electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet fell off during a scene, forcing her to ad lib. Grabbing the phone from Wicker, she says: "I'm back on Broadway, feeling fabulous and you can all go fuck yourself." The genial producer, Julia Budder (Cecile Monteyne), is a rich dilettante who mangles every famous theater quote, eliciting audience guffaws.
The only critical success goes to the Goth-like director Frank Finger (Keith Claverie), who moves around, crouching under a black shroud, presumably to escape notice. With an uninterrupted string of Broadway hits, he neurotically longs for failure. Claverie excels in the role of a petulant genius — with just a touch of kleptomania.
The highlight of the show was James Bartelle as effete reviewer and wannabe playwright Ira Drew, trying hard to fit into the clique.
It's Only A Play was just that — effervescent, fun and pure entertainment.