Insider Comedy for the Masses
Terrence McNally’s backstage farce is filled with humor that can be appreciated by everyone from seasoned theatregoers to dramaturgical neophytes.
By TERRY TEACHOUT
It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally’s 1982 backstage farce about the opening-night party for a play that gets roasted by the critics, was given a new lease on commercial life by a Jack O’Brien-directed 2014 Broadway revival that starred Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham. Now Florida’s GableStage, whose intimate 150-seat theater is in Coral Gable’ Biltmore Hotel, is presenting a production of the same play that doesn’t have any stars but is fully as funny.
While the effectiveness of this production is partly due to the quality of Mr. McNally’s one-liners, it has at least as much to do with Joseph Adler’s direction. GableStage performs in a wide, shallow space that is hard to use effectively, but Mr. Adler knows its quirks and makes the most of them, and the modes size of the house (there are only six rows of seats) makes you feel as though you’re a guest at the party. The seven members of the cast act broadly but without exaggeration, as befits the close quarters, and you laugh at them even harder because they’re so believable. Michael McKeever, for instance, plays the role assumed by Mr. Lane on Broadway, a stage actor turned sitcom star who can’t decide whether to hate or love himself, and his neat, dapper malevolence is as right in its own way as was Mr. Lane’s play-to-the-top-balcony flamboyance.
Mr. McNally updated the period references in It’s Only a Play for the Broadway revival, and he’s added a few new inside-baseball touches since then (yes, there’s a Hamilton bit). Fortunately, you don’t have to know who Daryl Roth or Scott Rudin are in order to get most of his jokes, and there are more than enough to go around.