Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane
The answer is Nathan Lane. The question is
what’s the best reason to see It’s Only A Play. This nearly sold out
smash hit is playing to full houses chocked with appreciative theater goers.
Just as trumpeted, the laughs never stop. Director Jack O’Brien has done a
masterful job keeping everything moving at breakneck speed. The deck is stacked
with performers who know how to deliver a line for maximum effect. Playwright
Terrence McNally is in familiar territory, and nary a quip fails to get the
But at two and a half hours, the production
is too long, and even laughing can become tiresome. There’s a lot of
repetition, not all of it for comic effect. I question how long the show will
run without its marquee names. Lane is such a master of both the one-liner and
the slow burn, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else driving this vehicle.
Much of the humor is a compilation of one
in-joke after another. There’s a snobbish pride in being theater knowledgeable,
and a savvy New Yorker, when we catch all the witty lines. I wonder whether the
tourists who are necessary to sustain a long run will understand why it’s funny
when the director declares, “ I won’t work with animals, children, or Frank
Langella.” Will they get it when Nathan Lane references The Addams Family?
The title of another McNally play, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” is slipped in so
fast, it almost zips past even the locals. Of course, there are gags that are
easier to get yuks from everyone, most of them involving the names of celebrities.
We’re told Kelly Ripa has been bitten by a dog. Shia LaBeouf has been
arrested. Patti LuPone has thrown pasta at a critic. When a woman was told she
looks “just like Hillary Clinton,” she replied, “I should hope so; I am Hillary
Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Stockard
Channing - Photos by Joan Marcus
premise of the piece is that it’s opening night for a not-so-great play.
Everyone who’s anyone, Liza Minelli, et al, has gathered at the home of the
producer, Julia Budder (Megan Mullally) and her playwright husband, Peter
Austin (Matthew Broderick). They’re waiting for the all-important review from
New York Times critic Ben Brantley. Good friend James “Jimmy” Wicker (Lane) has
flown in from the Coast, where he’s been on a hit TV series for years. British
director Sir Frank Finger (Rupert Grint) bursts into the room, as does
been-there-done-him leading lady Virginia Noyes. Joining them with his own
agenda is meaner than a junkyard dog critic Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham). A
naïve wannabe actor, Gus P. Head (Micah Stock), is depositing coats and
While their guests are down below
frolicking, the principles wander into Julia and Peter’s bedroom. And what a bedroom
it is; Scenic Designer Scott Pask has created the perfect boudoir, all sandy
beige walls, silver bannisters, exercise bike, expensive bowls and candlestick.
The crowning glory is a glimpse into Julia’s closet, filled with shelf after
shelf of designer high heels.
While Lane is clearly at the center of the
action (he enters to wild applause, as do the others), he has first class
colleagues. Stockard Channing is droll as the star who has seen better days.
The ankle cuff she sports is to inform her parole officer where she is at any
given moment. A high point in Channing’s performance is when she nonchalantly
tosses off the reason she’s been in trouble. It goes well beyond the booze and
drugs, although there are plenty of those at hand. Channing now looks more like
Elizabeth Taylor than ever, and that works to her advantage here; she’s
stunning in long black gown with golden sleeves and back, designed by Ann Roth.
Nathan Lane and Rupert Grint, of
"Harry Potter" fame
Rupert Grint is over the top as Finger, the
golden boy director who longs for a failure. With disheveled red hair and
bizarre eye makeup, he’s every bit the wild man wunderkind; but his best
moments are the quiet ones which play up his chemistry with Channing. F. Murray
Abraham delights with a maniacal laugh, but has too little to do toward the end
of the play. Megan Mullally of Will And Grace fame knows how to knock
every comedy line out of the park, but her voice becomes more annoying than
funny by the end of the evening. More Southern honey, less shrillness, would be
a huge improvement for the actress who can otherwise do no wrong for her
audience. Incidentally, note to the real producers: Mullally here is a dead
ringer for actress Deborah Rush; when it comes time to recast the show, Rush
would be perfect. Newcomer Micah Stock brings the right amount of gullibility
and ambition to Gus. And Matthew Broderick is, well, Matthew Broderick. As
usual, he maintains a monotone throughout, and delivers his lines as though
he’s sitting around a table with the cast, at a first reading of the play. But
the audience adores him.
The ending of the production doesn’t seem
like the right payoff for the time we’ve put in. The deus ex machina seems
tacked on. It’s Only A Play is both self-referential and
self-reverential. If you care enough about the theater to read a review about
it, this may well be the comedy of the season for you.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 230 West 45th
Running time: 2:30
Author: Terrence McNally
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew), Matthew Broderick
(Peter Austin), Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes), Rupert Grint (Frank
Finger), Nathan Lane (James Wicker), Megan Mullally (Julia Budder) and Micah
Stock (Gus P. Head)
Technical: sets, Scott Pask; costumes, Ann Roth;
lighting, Philip Rosenberg; sound, Fitz Patton