It’s Only a Play Review – An Uproarious Peek at Life on the New York Stage

Justin Heller, Joanna Churgin, and Kent Navarrette in IT'S ONLY A PLAY - Photo by Brian Morris

In authoring IT’S ONLY A PLAY, Playwright Terrence McNally clearly wrote about things near – but far from dear – to his life. His barb-filled satire of life, death, and everything in between on the high-stakes New York stage has taken anxiety and turned it into a chuckle-filled evening for the audience. First produced as an off-off Broadway show in 1982, the oft revised IT’S ONLY A PLAY worked its way to a full-blown, star-studded Broadway hit in 2014, where it was nominated for a Tony (Micah Stock as best featured actor) and Drama Desk Award (F. Murray Abraham as outstanding featured actor). In 2020, the Morgan-Wixson is ready to show audiences that show biz has never been such a hoot.

David Callander and Kelly McReynolds – Photo by Brian Morris

The “Golden Egg” has just opened on Broadway, and everyone involved in the show is nervously awaiting the theater reviews. While a riotous first-night party is going on downstairs, first-time playwright Peter Austin (Chris Aruffo), novice producer Julia Budder (Kelly McReynolds), “genius” British director Frank Finger (Justin Heller), and fading movie star and lead actor Virginia Noyes (Joanna Churgin) are upstairs holding their collective breath for the first make-or-break review to come in. The author’s best friend and TV sit-com star James Wicker (David Callander), a lethal theater critic Ira Drew (Michael Bernstein), and Ms. Budder’s fresh-off-the-bus hat-check/butler boy (Kent Navarrette) complete the group tensely awaiting the ball to drop.

Justin Heller, Joanna Churgin, Chris Aruffo, David Callander, and Kelly McReynolds – Photo by Brian Morris

Director Aric Martin helms the production with a sure hand, keeping the wit rolling and the comedy tumbling along – just right for a fast-paced farce with sidesplitting digs any everyone and everything. In fact, the updated script nips at the heels of many of today’s famous, near-famous, and infamous – along with a poke at today’s celebrity-driven followers. At the same time, absurdity abounds as hits of the day are put under McNally’s comic microscope. The talented ensemble cast really dives into the play with enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheek.

Michael Bernstein and Justin Heller – Photo by Brian Morris

Costume designer Kristie Mattsson seems to be having the time of her life outfitting the gang – and adds stacks and stacks of clothing that never even get worn but still enhance the sparkle (Lady Gaga anyone?) Although William Wilday’s set design could use a bit of TLC, it nonetheless works as a classy penthouse apartment. Greg Rutledge’s sound adds to the efforts of the entire production crew.

Cast of IT’S ONLY A PLAY – Photo by Brian Morris

IT’S ONLY A PLAY is an entertaining comedy/farce/satire which alternates between raucous and ridiculous – all the while keeping the audience on their toes in a laugh-a-minute fest. Theater audiences will enjoy seeing how “the other half” – those in front of the lights rather than behind – lives and survives. IT’S ONLY A PLAY proves that sometimes the biggest laughs happen offstage. To quote the 2014 New York Times review: “These are among the funniest lines to roll off a stage in years.” This critic for one thinks that the Morgan-Wixson has outdone itself in this superb production.

SPLASH SELECTION

IT’S ONLY A PLAY runs through February 9, 2020, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 (seniors $23; students $20). For information and reservations, call 310-828-7519 or go online.

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