It’s Only a Play is fast and funny
The George Street Playhouse was last in the spacious Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in 2019 with a new musical, Last Days of Summer. To reopen the space for live theatre, George Street has chosen a hit Broadway comedy, Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play. The only problem with this show is that the theatre isn’t big enough to hold all the laughter generated by its audiences. If my partner and I hadn’t been seated away from the aisles, we would have been rolling in them.
McNally, who we lost to COVID-19 in March of 2020, was a brilliant playwright, equally adept with drama as well as comedy. It’s Only a Play was his valentine to all those in the theatre business who have faced disastrous reviews and truncated runs and have, beyond all reasonable expectations, kept the belief that the next time will be a success. Everyone, this play says, uses a façade to keep their dignity intact, but it’s in times of adversity that the façades come down and one’s best self shines through — and no place more than in the world of show business.
The show takes place in the apartment of a wealthy first-time producer. The opening night party is in full swing, and her upstairs bedroom is an area of relative refuge. Taking advantage of the space are the anxious playwright, his actor/best friend, the avant-garde British director, the drug-and-booze addled leading lady, an acid-tongued critic, and the producer herself. Popping in and out is a fresh-off-the-farm stagestruck valet for whom being in this place with these people is a dream come true. They’re all waiting for the reviews to come in, sure that their show is a hit…
To say that they behave badly once the reviews arrive would be to diminish the exquisite way they behave badly toward each other before then. It takes a writer of McNally’s talent to take guilt, jealousy, envy, self-flagellation, ego, and the million little cuts that friends can give each other and turn them into roaringly funny comedy.
For those who have ever taken part in the theatre, for those who are theatre buffs, this play is an Easter egg-stravaganza of dropped names and allusions to entertainers. For everyone else, the dialogue is fast and funny and delivered by a cast of farceurs that are the best in the business, directed by the skilled team of Kevin Cahoon and Colin Hanlon.
First among equals is the dazzling Kristine Nielsen, devouring the hell out of the part of the past-her-prime leading lady looking for a second chance at fame. She’s closely followed by Greg Cuellar’s wunderkind director, who aches to have a flop but isn’t sure what he would do if he had one. Triney Sandoval’s viperous critic conceals the desire to have a part in the making of a play. Patrick Richwood’s playwright and Mark Junek’s actor strike sparks of jealousy disguised as honesty and expectations unmet in each other, while Lindsay Nicole Chambers is determined to keep a cheerful facade despite everything. Finally, Doug Harris’ starry-eyed valet is a font of inappropriateness as he goes about his first-ever theatre-adjacent job.
It’s Only a Play is fast and funny. It is a show to lift one’s spirits and revel in the misfortunes of others, no matter how much those misfortunes are of their own making. It is a marvelous, glittery, spinning top of a play, and I urge you to see it. Kudos to the George Street Playhouse for bringing this lively comedy back to the stage!
It’s Only a Play is presented by the George Street Playhouse at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through December 19th. The Center requires proof of vaccination and a photo ID to enter, and masks must be worn at all times inside the building. For more information or to order tickets, go to georgestplayhouse.org or call 732-246-7717.
In the interests of transparency: Allen Neuner, our theatre reviewer, is employed by the George Street Playhouse in their Patron Services Office.