There's nothing 'only' about it Review: 'It's Only a Play,' spoof at Towson State, delights as the cast tweaks just about everyone in theater, from playwrights to actors to critics.

July 04, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"This is the kind of play that gives playwriting a bad name and deals the theater, already a somewhat endangered species, something very close to a death blow."

Fear not. That opening quote is not a review of Terrence McNally's "It's Only a Play." Instead, it's a line from this very funny comedy, which spoofs just about everybody in or around the theatrical trade -- with poison-pen critics ranking high on the list.

And, a far cry from that irresistibly nasty quote, the production at Towson State University's Maryland Arts Festival ensures that this is the kind of play that gives playwriting a hilarious tweak and deals the theater a tickle in the ribs.

The history of "It's Only a Play" ironically mimics its plot. Originally titled "Broadway, Broadway," this backstage comedy about a flop closed during tryouts in Philadelphia in 1978. Seven years later, McNally -- who describes this dead-on parody as "one of the most serious plays I have ever written" -- was vindicated when his revised and retitled effort became an off-Broadway success.

Set in the master bedroom suite of the producer's townhouse, "It's Only a Play" takes place at the opening night party for a play portentously titled, "The Golden Egg." (Considering some of the principals -- the kleptomaniac director, the drug-dependent star, and particularly the playwright's vain, insincere best friend -- a more accurate title would be "The Golden Ego.")

The hopeful director, star, playwright, producer and various hangers-on await the reviews in the first act, which ends with the playwright's fervent prayer: "Lord,if you can't give us unanimous raves, we'll settle for the Times. The rest are negotiable."

In the second act, the Times' verdict is in, and it's not the answer to the playwright's prayer -- at least, not the answer he wants to hear.

And, oh, how quickly these lovey-dovey theater folk turn! Their self-interest -- which most of them try to keep below the surface in act one -- now overflows.

Though C. Richard Gillespie's direction is overly broad at times, his cast clearly delights in portraying these familiar types.

Maravene Loeschke's bejeweled "Noo Yawk" producer is easily the warmest and most genuine of the bunch. Of course, that's not hard considering what poseurs the rest are -- especially the sticky-fingered, boy-wonder director, played by John W. Ford as an analyst's dream; the playwright's two-faced best friend, a TV sitcom star played with a heart of Hollywood tinsel by Bruce Nelson; and the hyper, needy star, played by high-strung Holly Pasciullo.

Perhaps for contrast, Robert Riggs portrays the playwright as a near nonentity whose nickname might be "Only-a-Playwright."

Two of the more peripheral characters seem deliberately more colorful -- a naive actor/waiter just off the bus from Kansas, played with unbridled enthusiasm by Sean Kennedy, and a theater-loving cab driver, played with plenty of street smarts by Judi Holloway.

In deference to my profession -- which takes more than a few barbs in this play -- it should be noted that the Times' typo-ridden, scathing review is so preposterously contrived, it even razzes an obnoxious critic from a competing periodical (Doug Roberts), who happens to have crashed the opening night party.

What isn't contrived is the depth of feeling McNally brings to his subject. The title, "It's Only a Play," is a blatant understatement by this playwright whose current Tony Award-winning drama, "Master Class," is a related, though more overt, testament to the importance of art.

"How do you hate the theater? That's like hating life," the cabbie says near the end of "It's Only a Play."

That's McNally's point. Wisdom from the mouths of cabbies. Truth from laughter. And a good time had by all -- even dastardly critics.

'It's Only a Play'

Where: Maryland Arts Festival, Studio Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Towson State University, Osler and Cross Campus drives

When: 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturedays and July 19; 2 p.m. July 14. Through July 20

Admission: $12

Call: (410) 830-2787

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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