By Joanna Brady
The Waterfront Playhouse continues to stage plays that entertain and delight Key West audiences. It would be hard to find anything funnier than its latest production, “It’s Only a Play,” by playwright and Key West snowbird Terrence McNally. Directed by Murphy Davis, it opened Dec. 15 to run until Jan. 7.
When first produced Off-Broadway in 1986, the play was called a “maliciously funny diatribe about the desperate and demented business of producing a play on Broadway.” When revived and rewritten for Broadway in 2014, the play was a mega hit that starred Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham, but it’s hard to imagine those superstars interpreting the roles any better than the production being staged through this holiday season at the Waterfront Playhouse.
The entire play takes place in the elegant boudoir of wealthy socialite Julia Budder (Maribeth Graham), sole backer of a play called “The Golden Egg” by Peter Austin (Barry Tarallo). The Michael Boyer set is beautifully conceived and luxuriously decorated.
Members of the cast include Virginia Noyes (Marjorie Paul-Shook), a blowsey aging actress with a potty mouth and a drug problem who is plagued by felony charges; the director of “Thee Golden Egg”, Frank Finger, a kleptomaniac with father issues—in other words, a mess— played by Matt Hollis Hulsey; an actor of fleeting fame, James Wicker (David Black); Gus, a handsome young wannabe actor put in charge of coats; and Ira Drew (J.B. McLendon) a frustrated critic who really wants to write plays.
The socialite producer has thrown a wrap party on opening night and while just about everyone who is anyone is downstairs drinking champagne, this motley group is gathered to await the reviews, particularly the one from the New York Times.
This sets the stage for the hilarious interaction of the characters. Initially everyone is “up,” if anxious, excited over what they hope is a successful opening night. Their collective spirit deflates as it becomes apparent that the “egg” metaphor in the title of the play is, in fact, apt. The play is a turkey.
Be prepared to laugh out loud at the repartee that ensues. “It’s Only a Play” isn’t a musical. It really has no plot. The impetus behind its fabulous success is superb character development and exquisitely funny dialogue that never flags, from the opening scene to the curtain. David Black is on stage for the entire play, and interacts with all the others, delivering many of the funniest lines as his chameleon-like character changes and bends to whatever the situation calls for. The role of Gus (Trey Gerrald), the actor wannabe ferrying coats is interesting, growing from a fifth business role to a fully participating member of the cast. Toward the end, he even bursts into song, and has a great voice.
There’s a line in Irving Berlin’s lyrics of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” that goes:
There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low
Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold
Still you wouldn’t change it for a sack of gold, let’s go on with the show. . .
And that pretty well sums up what they do next. Once they accept the worst as a fait accompli, they dust themselves off and prepare to start all over again. If you need a good laugh, do not miss this play. It’s funny, sophisticated, clever, and it’s well worthwhile.
Joanna Brady is a Key West writer, author of the historical Key West novel “The Woman at the Light” published by St. Martin’s Press.
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