WHAT “It’s Only a Play,” by Terrence McNally
WHEN | WHERE Through Nov. 20, Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst. Upcoming: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS $25; 631-226-8400, studiotheatreli.com
It’s only a play unless you’re an actor, director, producer or, especially, an author who’s staked his career on it. Terrence McNally’s snarky, ever-evolving love letter to Broadway gets a spirited revival at Studio Theatre, where producer-director David Dubin snarls with pompous erudition as The Critic.
“It’s Only a Play,” which made its Broadway debut in 2014 with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick together again, began inauspiciously in 1978 as “Broadway, Broadway,” flopping in out-of-town tryouts before resurfacing under its current title in the 1980s and ’90s.
At Studio, Dubin wisely goes with a more romantic early version, based on the days when critics wrote their reviews on opening night while cast, crew and creators waited to read of their fate in late editions of the morning papers. (These days, internet message boards opine willy-nilly while critics see an authorized preview and release their opening-night reviews online.)
It’s opening night in the final year of Frank Rich’s “reign of terror” as New York Times theater critic. Julia Budder, novice producer of “The Golden Egg” by promising author Peter Austin (Ed Huether, frantically sweating bullets), hosts an après-party at her Manhattan digs, somewhat shabby in Studio’s uncredited set design. The principals arrive one by one, preceded by actor/coat-check guy Gus (an amusing Nathaniel Portier). James Wicker, narcissistically hyper as played by Scott Earle, is a buddy of the author who wanted to cast him in the lead. But James nixed the offer for a TV series. Janine Haire as Virginia Noyes frets ferociously that “Egg” may be her last chance as an actress way past her ingenue wheelhouse.
George Ghossn as “Egg’s” director feverishly pulls his boy-band hair out over the raves he receives undeservedly. He craves a pan. Ira Drew — who invited him to this party, or is it a wake? — may be just the critic to oblige him. But, besides roasting Long Island producers (such as himself), Dubin’s Ira has another agenda. Joanne Rispoli, priceless as airhead producer Julia Budder, misquotes George M. Cohan: “If you can make it here, you can make it there.” Everyone drops names of the rich and famous they envy. The only insightful one is the Times-delivering cabbie (RoseMarie Amato).
“It’s Only a Play” takes a twist that you may find corny when applied to Broadway’s cutthroat business side — that is, if you consider it only a play.