IT’S ONLY A PLAY! REVIEW
by: Anthony Zangrillo
It’s Only an Indulgent Broadway Satire! (Pop culture and inside jokes included)
Terrence McNally’s new revival runs the gamut of pop culture references to elicit a constant stream of laughs; however there is nothing revolutionary in this big budgeted version of familiar satire. No theater show is safe as the play takes cheap, but playful shots at its many neighbors in Times Square. The real strength of this show lies in its phenomenal ensemble cast, composed of veterans, stars, and newcomers to the Broadway lights.
A struggling friendship between a sell-out actor (Nathan Lane) and a failed playwright (Matthew Broderick) resonate at the heart of this comedy, taking place during the after party for the opening of a new Broadway play. While Lane doesn’t leave the stage for the entirety of the show, Broderick remains a mystery to audiences, until the midpoint of the first act. Lane performed with his normal, over-the-top energy, while Broderick appeared to be somewhat aloof in the first act, stumbling over some of his lines. Despite an hysterical prayer to the Broadway gods sequence, the first half of Matt’s performance did not overly impress me. As the second act began, I felt that Broderick began to really shine, a possible result of some more dramatic overtures in the play’s script.
Fulfilling the duty of lead protagonist, Lane guides the audience through much of the exposition (as he mentions, at least he can sit in a comfy chair, while doing it). The opening act is a who’s who of pop culture and media references, bound to leave even the most up-to-date thespians scratching their heads, at points. In fact, I find some of the cheap puns to ultimately take away from the “true” comedic elements of the show. While it is amusing to witness Lane’s character reference “Nathan Lane” and his previous Broadway roles (no surprise that The Addams Family was mentioned), I literally cried with laughter from a perfectly-timed Broderick retort.
Buddies Broderick and Lane are accompanied by a bevy of talented actors, including F. Murray Abraham, Meghan Mullally, Stockard Channing, and Rupert Grint. The script and direction really allow all of the talent to easily share the one-set stage, exploring the inner tensions between the cast of a show on opening night. I thoroughly enjoyed Grint’s take on the eccentric, prodigy director Frank Finger, greeting audiences with an elaborate costume and eye makeup. While Grint’s mannerisms rival an insane drunkard, the script maintained my interest by placing an emphasis on his character’s psychological deficiencies and philosophical queries. Grint’s craziness highlights some of the non-referential elements, which earnestly try to maintain their own separate pace from the “selfie” and Kardashian bashing moments. Stockard Channing brings a level of drugged-out dysfunction to the cast, portraying a Hollywood has-been, straight out of rehab. This character allows the actors to unload a spectra of attacks against silver screen turned Broadway runs (fitting that Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper is next door). Triumphantly, Channing breaks the constraints of this obvious vehicle, stealing some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Mullally, no stranger to Broadway, nails her role as the Producer Mrs. Budder. In a surprisingly controlled demeanor, Mullally expertly plays off her riotous co-stars. Abraham may have been the surprise casting of the play, shining in his role as the most virulent reviewer of New York theater, Ira Drew. I was actually surprised by how central reviews are to the plot of this play. An introspective analysis of the creation of reviews and a debate over their importance in the digital age persisted as a secondary plot motivator. In fact, the end of the first act revolves around the outcome of a NY Times review, which will make or break the play within a play.
Many of the characters fear and admire the unholy process of dismantling an artistic performance, providing audiences with an interesting conundrum to puzzle. At what point do critics (like myself) cross the unspoken line of expert connoisseurs to petty, uninspired pundits. While I believe I maintain integrity in my work, this show definitely made me think about the whole process of reviewing. The fact that I influence the decisions of the fervent NYU movie fan base (best demographic in the world) can be a blessing and a curse. Watching Abraham’s character be totally un-phased by the utter ruination surrounding him, made me think twice before writing a possible hurtful sentence, which in all honesty, is often exaggerated for effect.
A multitude of depressing phrases bombard the members of the cast as they read the thoughts of their respected reviewers. As professionals continue to berate and ridicule almost every aspect of the soon-to-be flop, the play shows its true colors as a heartbreaking crucible between two lifelong friends. Fame has broken this relationship, yet by the end of the play there is hope that they will be able to mend their ties, uniting for a truly “innovative” idea (Give yourself a pat on the back if you are able to guess the ending).
End of Spoilers:
Ultimately, the chemistry and quirkiness of this modern revival more than compensate the price of admission. While some are bound to groan at some of the repetitive uninspiring jokes (HARVEY FIERSTIEN!!!), I would recommend giving this play a chance, solely based on the talent alone. It’s only one night! What have you got to lose?
Student rush deals are still easy to acquire during mid-week shows, since the play is only in previews. I received a Row B Orchestra seat with an obstructed view; however I thought the seat was fantastic, placing me in the second row with no one in front of me. Overall, you can’t go wrong with such an economically-friendly deal towards Broadway’s future full-price patrons.
Only Rupert Grint and Micah Stock came out the stagedoor to greet fans and sign playbills. Rupert was very nice, even allowing all the girls on the barricade to take pictures with him (some involving kisses). Unfortunately, the elderly members of the cast were not as amicable to the theater’s audiences, sneaking out the back door to avoid their loyal fans.