Terrence McNally’s It’s Only A Play, bears a marked resemblance to Moss Hart’s Light Up The Sky, a comedy released in 1948. This isn’t a disparaging observation, the premise is surprisingly viable: the various artists involved in the premiere of a new play, gather in one room to await the reviews. The lead actors, playwright, producer, director, et al, worry and wait, exposing both their more gracious and obnoxious moments. It’s Only A Play certainly stands by itself. Set in the present day, it’s notably more cynical, and leaves less opportunity for rumination.
It’s Only A Play opens with handsome, aspiring actor Gus (hired on to take coats at a posh party) chatting with James Wicker, close friend of playwright Peter Austin. James has flown to New York, especially for the premiere of Peter’s play. Other guests, all with a stake in the critical response to this new show, climb the stairs to the upstairs bedroom, while celebrities join the festivities below. As they all nervously ruminate, temperaments boil and moods change swiftly. How the characters weather this contained cyclone of emotions comprises substance of McNally’s comedy.
It’s Only A Play has an abundance of snappy, well-realized, clever humor, much of it laugh-out-loud merriment. Lots of good-natured pokes such as a ridiculously long fur coat belonging to Tommy Tune, or the crass behavior of self-absorbed stars. It’s Only A Play is less about narrative then Hart’s Light Up The Sky, and by comparison (Light Up is three acts) less philosophical and introspective. It follows the same strategy of truth revealed in the heat of anger and goes more for the rapid succession of gags. Most of them zippy and pointed. You could write a book about the sketchy chemistry of stage humor, but even with McNally’s masterful jabs, the audience simply needs some breathing room. You can only tickle someone for so long, before they become desensitized. At the end of the day, though, It’s Only A Play is truly a gift of giggles, guffaws and sharp satire. An embarrassment of riches.
Uptown Players presents It’s Only A Play, running from July 15th-31st, 2016. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. uptownplayers.org