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Jan 20, 2000 - Gothic North's "It's Only a Play" Has Its Fill of Kosher Hams
By Jack Neal
Terrence McNally's "It's Only a Play," which opened Friday (1/14/2000) at the Gothic North Theater, is reminscent of the comedies that used to grace Broadway during the 1930s and '40s, save one thing: its needlessly raunchy language.
Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote such '30s and '40s comedies and I wished as I was being entertained (Gothic's production does entertain) by the drollery on stage that the language in this fun-loving enterprise was less offensive. Nonetheless, it's a good show, wonderfully produced, energetically directed and for the most part solidly acted.
"It's Only a Play" is about an inexperienced producer, Julia Budder (Erin O'Brien), who's giving a party in her chic Manhattan apartment after the opening of "Golden Egg," which has been written by a frantic young chap, Peter Austin (Michael Peters). The play is directed by a theatrical wunderkind, Frank Finger (Kenneth Ostrom), who claims anguish over directing nothing but hits. Mr. Finger it turns out is also into kleptomania. To add luster to this already glitzy group, the star of this play within a play is a pill-pushing has-been from the movies, the egomaniacal Virginia Noyes (Kimberly Golish Gibbons).
Upstairs in Julia's boudoir and coat room for the downstairs party guests, are James Wicker (Gary Helmers), a comic who would have starred in "Egg" had it not been for his TV series, which has just been cancelled; Ira Drew (Phil Harriman), a pushy New York critic who's trying to foist a script of his off onto Julia; Gus P. Head (Nate Hogen), a temporary worker managing the coats of the celebrated party goers, who has aspirations for the stage larger by far than his skills for singing; and last, but far from least, Emma Bovary (Carol Pevney) a streetwise New York Cabbie, who brings a bit of sanity to the hysterical histrionics of the play's neurotic collection of over-the-top characters.
"It's Only a Play" is a name-dropping roadmap of the theater, that is - especially in Act I - as funny as it can be. What it all works up to, besides tizzies for its players, is the coming of "Golden Egg's" reviews, notably the decisive "Times" one written by Frank Rich. And that's it; a play where the plot thins rather than thickens. But the thinning is so nicely managed, the whole thing adds up to just slightly more than two hours of pleasant to very funny entertainment.
Julie Robertson has produced and once again she has done a job worthy of David O. Selznick. If one wants swank penthouse digs, Robertson's set - she's also the designer - is attractive enough to lease. David Zybert has directed and he keeps his charges under thumb enough to keep the action perking merrily, if frenetically, along. Rick Patton's lighting is solid as usual, the costumes are attractive and all other aspects of the show are worthy of its players' celebrity status.
Peters is terrific as the half-crazed playwright waiting for his notices. His expressions, timing and delivery are all equally on target. As the TV star nearly out of a job, Helmers is appropriately nonplussed and wonderful. No less unnoticed is the self-absorbed star, fervently played by Gibbons, who makes the outlandish star seem perfectly - well - outlandish.
Ostrom does well by McNally's frazzled view of what a director might be like on opening night. Miss O'Brien radiates a riotus suavity and is a most attractive Julia. Harriman is a blustering critic and then some and manages to make Ira Drew the kind of stuffed shirt playgoers love to hate. Hogen is ogle-eyed at the stars around him and most adept at placing coats, and Miss Pevney brings the kind of earthy sophistication to her performance that New York cabbies bring to theirs.
"It's Only a Play" isn't really much of a play, but it does make its hams kosher to ponder and lots of fun to watch.
"It's Only a Play" plays Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through January 30th. The Gothic North Theater is located in the Viewcrest Shopping Center at the intersection of King's Row and Northwest McCarran Boulevard, Reno. For information call 775-329-7529.
Click here to visit the Gothic North website.
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