NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.
By John Lyle Belden
Rarely has a play dared me so strongly to write a bad review of it.
“It’s Only a Play,” by legendary playwright and librettist Terrance McNally, is on the main stage at Theatre on the Square through Oct. 1, opening the 2016-17 season. In this comedy, a nervous playwright, Peter Austin (played by Dave Ruark) nervously awaits the reviews after opening night of his Broadway play.
All action takes place in a guest room at the home of the play’s rich producer Julia Budder (Afton Shepard), where Austin’s best friend, TV star James Wicker (Adam O. Crowe) tries to relax, glad that he turned down the lead role in the play – though he won’t tell Austin; scandal-plagued lead actress Virginia Noyes (Kathy Pataluch) and acclaimed “genius” director Frank Finger (Thomas Cardwell) each go to get away from the party crowd downstairs; reviled theatre critic Ira Drew (Jeff Maess) seeks someone to take on the play he secretly wrote; and coat-check boy and aspiring actor Gus (Jacob Swain) comes in to deposit coats and accoutrements worn by various celebrities.
The play is loaded with Broadway references and swipes at critics, and teases us with a cliffhanger at intermission. At the end, things get almost groaningly meta. Need I mention that the first version of this play closed during previews (according to Wikipedia)?
Yet, here, it all works.
Yes, even critics can take a joke – and I and another scribe in attendance could even think of someone who the play’s zingers better fit. The discussion of stage legends like Patty Lupone is mixed with more-recognizable celebrities like Lady Gaga, so references to the party downstairs never go flat. “Hamilton” even gets name-checked (and coat-checked).
And the mixture of dysfunctional characters we are presented with – Budder keeps butchering popular quotes, Noyes wears a court-ordered ankle bracelet, and Finger’s insecurity over his incredible success manifests as compulsive kleptomania – are very funny and well-presented by actors far more talented than the poor hacks they portray.
So, who cares if McNally didn’t get a(nother) Tony for this – for TOTS, this romp is “only” a winner.
Find the stage at 627 Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-685-8687 or see www.tots.org.
John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.