“Reviewers are killing the theater,” someone complains in “It’s Only A Play ” by Terrence McNally.
Playwright Peter Austin, actors and friends are gathered in the producer’s upstairs bedroom of her upscale Manhattan apartment to receive the early reviews of “The Golden Egg.” Yes, there is even a notorious critic among them, known as “The Eviscerator” for his nasty reviews. While the opening-night party roars downstairs, the group haggles and grows tense as it becomes apparent that the play is a “flop,” the four-letter F-word they fear most. Since 1978 “Only a Play” has been rewritten by McNally and produced several times. It had a successful Broadway run in 2014.
Creative Theatre-Muddy Water Players is staging a laugh-packed revival at the Playhouse at Museum Village under the vigorous direction of David M. Mossey. The seven actors have a free-for-all in their wacky roles, ranging from rolling on the floor to steady drinking and in one case taking drugs. Virginia Noyes stars in “Egg” and is addicted to snorting cocaine, even while on stage. Lori Crescenzo plays the ex-movie queen attempting to prove herself on the Broadway stage and obviously relishes the role for its uninhibited narcissism. When it comes to egos, however, Eric Dohman as James Wicker wins the prize for name-dropping and putting down others. He has enjoyed a 10-year stint in a sitcom and turned down the lead role in “The Golden Egg,” although author Austin is his best friend and written the part for him. Their love-hate relationship is important in this play within a play which is full of character but short on plot. Nathan Lane was Wicker and Matthew Broderick Austin in the 2014 revival, recalling their roles in “The Producers.”
Al Snider as author Peter is the last to arrive but takes over the evening as the reviews start to come in. He has long moving speeches on the state of the Broadway theater which has allowed itself to be taken over by British imports and remakes of Disney movies. It is all business and money, he claims and creative impulses are thwarted. Old theaters are torn down and replaced by condos. He rhapsodizes over the great days at the Ethel Barrymore where his play is being staged and, it appears, about to be murdered by critics. Ira Drew is the critic on hand; he takes heat from everybody. In the role, Jon Huberth more than holds his own and mixes charm with his venom. It turns out that he is an aspiring playwright himself and hopes to win backing at the party for a play he has written. Donna Polichetti plays Julia Budder, the wealthy producer and hostess of the party. She is naïve and unfamiliar with the inner workings of the theater. Some of her faux pas are funny for Broadway aficionados. The more familiar one is with theater and pop culture the more pleasure one will have in this play.
A British director who has had a string of successes, Frank Finger has even been knighted but longs for his own comeuppance. Alex Booth tosses himself on the floor and bed in fits of simulated madness. With wild red hair and staring eyes he looks and acts crazy like the mad genius he is supposed to be. Finally, Withers Xavier plays Gus P. Head, a newly arrived acting hopeful who has been hired for the evening to take care of the guests.
Gerard Weiss has designed a well-furnished spacious townhouse bedroom which is cleverly over-decorated by Mossey. Cindy Topps has fashioned the latest and the old-fashioned in tuxedos and the fancy dress for theater male and female types. Bruce Roman’s lighting design and Lee Ferguson’s sound worked like a charm on opening night. You will find “It's Only A Play” as delicious as the apple pie and ice cream served at intermission.