Thursday, October 30, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: It's Only a Play with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick

Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane. Photo by Joan Marcus
It’s Only a Play, but Nathan Lane Makes it Something More
By Lauren Yarger
If you wanted to write a play designed to give comic genius Nathan Lane a chance to shine in the spotlight, Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, getting a revival on Broadway at the Schoenfeld Theatre, would be it.

McNally’s original 1978 play predated Lane’s triumph in The Producers, (he is reunited with co-star Matthew Broderick here), but seems the perfect vehicle for him. Even a facial expression brings laughs.

Lane is James Wicker, an actor who turned down the lead role in the play of his best friend, Peter Austin (Broderick), ostensibly because the shooting schedule of his popular TV program conflicted. But really, he didn’t want to be in such a turkey. He shows up for Peter’s opening night party where everyone awaits the all-important review from Ben Brantley in the NY Times.

The real action isn’t at the party.  It’s upstairs in the townhouse of Producer Julia Budder (Megan Mullally) where partygoers go to escape. Especially nervous is the play’s star, Virginia Noyes (a lusciously lushy and vibrant Stockard Channing), who is hoping some stage work will reinvigorate a waning movie career.

Not nervous, and actually hoping for some bad reviews instead of the boring ones he always gets calling him a genius, is odd British Director Frank Finger (Ruper Grint, of  Ron Weasley, “Harry Potter” film fame). Finger also has an uncontrollable urge to steal small trinkets from the townhouse…

Joining the entourage are drama critic Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham) and Gus P. Head (Micah Stock in an impressive Broadway debut), a new-to-town, wannabe actor who was hired to take coats and pour drinks, but who finds himself in the middle of the opening-night angst.

Humor abounds – it is a group of self-obsessed actors, after all – and the play elicits out-loud guffaws throughout, thanks much to recent updates by McNally to replace out-of-date names and references with modern ones. One prayer scene is particularly funny. And Brantley’s review is hysterical. If you’re not a theater aficionado, you might miss some of the meaning, but you’ll probably still laugh.

At the heart of it all is Lane, who doesn’t miss a beat and who attacks the role with anything but a lackluster energy that would have you believe it’s only a play. He’s totally enjoyable, and truth be told, I took very few notes since I was simply enjoying watching him work. Kudos to Director Jack O’Brien for letting that happen. It also was fun to see some of the actors trying to keep a straight face on stage.

Channing is a hoot and a treasure (as always). Young Stock as the stage-struck kid gives a performance that proves he is a star in the making himself.

Some notes I did take however (and maybe O’Brien could have grabbed the reins a bit more on these):
·         Didn’t like Mullally’s Southern accent and didn’t quite buy her as the ingenue producer
·         Costumes by Ann Roth were puzzling. Julia looks like she’s wearing a wedding dress, for example. Not sure what the heck the suit Finger wears is supposed to be.
·         Grint is a bit over the top as the eccentric director (though he may be just as much a box-office factor as the Lane/Broderick combination -- folks stopping outside the theater to gaze at a massive cast photo plastered on the stage door were stopping to say, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Harry Potter?”)
·         Surprisingly, there isn’t any magic between Lane and Broderick, who seems oddly subdued.

It's Only a Play runs at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. http://itsonlyaplay.com.

Christians might also like to know: 
-- Language
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Sexually suggestive dialogue and actions


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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