Posted in #MatthewBroderickNathanLane2GetherAgain, Jack O'Brien, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Terrence McNally

Too modest by half: McNally’s "It’s Only A Play"

Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick, Nathan
Lane, and Stockard Channing in a scene from Terrence
McNally’s It’s Only A Play, directed by Jack O’Brien, at the
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Matthew Broderick’s inflections suggest a deeply wounded soul. As Peter Austin, a playwright awaiting opening night notices, in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only A Play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in a limited 18 week run through January 4, 2015, he delivers his lines with an aggressive hesitance, that seems perfectly suited to his character. Each sentence is punctuated through the middle, which adds a certain piquancy to the play.

Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane in a scene from It’s Only
A Play.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Peter’s best friend, James Wicker (Nathan Lane) is also jittery. He expects bad press, but he is actually more distressed over the fate of the sitcom that kept him from being in Peter’s Broadway debut.

Lane, by the way, is on stage and either delivering or reacting to the funny zingers for the entirety of this comedy. He is in every sense of the word “on!” Lane’s performance is wonderful.

It’s Only A Play mocks everyone involved in the theater. Critics are skewered, of course, and embodied as Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham,) a particularly nasty specimen. Actors are self-absorbed, and playwrights are needy. Hotshot British directors, in this case an eccentric Frank Finger (Rupert Grint, ) are made fun of for their ubiquitous successes. Sir Frank yearns for a failure.

Micah Stock, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and Nathan Lane
in a scene from It’s Only A Play. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Even matinee audiences are not safe. Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing) really sticks it to the seniors in their headsets. The producer, Julia Budder (Megan Mullally,) whose gorgeous bedroom (designed by Scott Pask) is the setting for the post-opening soiree, drops misquotes and malapropisms at fever pitch. Not to dwell too much on voices, but Mullally’s squeaky delivery is delightfully antic. Rounding out the cast is the hat-check boy, Gus P. Head (Micah Stock, who has some shticks of his own to add.)

The pace of It’s Only A Play is kept moving at a steady and uproarious clip under Jack O’Brien’s able direction. In an excellent cast, standing out along with Lane is Stockard Channing who gives a grand and understated performance in a role that could go way over the top, and goes just right.

Unlike poor Peter Austin, playwright Terrence McNally will be able to add this hit to his slew of award-winning Broadway productions. Be warned that your fifteen year old from Atlanta might not be as happy at It’s Only A Play as we were.

It’s Only A Play is a theater-crowd pleasing satiric comedy, with great sets and lovely elegant costumes (by Ann Roth), a star-studded cast, and very witty name-dropping dialog.

Additional commentary from Tamara Beck can be found at VevlynsPen.com.

For more information about It’s Only A Play, please visit http://itsonlyaplay.com/

Posted in AIDS crisis, Bobby Steggert, Fredeick Weller, guppies, Terrence McNally, Tyne Daly

What does moving on look like?

Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor, and Tyne
Daly in a scene from Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and
Sons,”
at the Golden Theatre. Photo © Joan Marcus

Loss can be a paralyzing experience.

In Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons,” at the Golden Theatre, it is particularly difficult and the way forward is a slog.

It is more so for Katharine Gerard (Tyne Daly), the titular mother in this play, for whom the death of her son nearly twenty years ago remains a fresh wound.  She shows up at Cal Porter’s (Frederick Weller) door unbidden because he is her one connection to Andre. For Katharine, who is recently widowed, Andre was the only beacon of love in a bitter life.

Cal has not forgotten Andre but he has allowed himself some happiness. His sunnier present is with Will Ogden (Bobby Steggert) whose youth and disposition help them to make a home for their son Bud (Grayson Taylor).  The Ogden-Porters are guppies, an affluent gay family, something that was not even thought of while Andre was alive.

Frederick Weller as Cal and Tyne Daly as Katharine in a
scene from “Mothers and Sons.” Photo © Joan Marcus

Katharine did not expect this. She is a ramrod of indignation anger and vengeance. Andre’s death was cataclysmic. There should be no moving on. Cal has picked up the pieces as Katharine could not.

As Katharine, Tyne Daly is at once brittle and ascerbic. Wheeler’s mild-mannered Cal is the perfect foil for the hateful Katharine, whose grief is a heaviness that is only lifted in her very sweet and natural interactions with Bud.

Don’t shy from “Mothers and Sons” because it is a genuinely sad and moving play.  There is plenty of humor and wit to ease us along. The drama is well played by all the four principals, and well paced under Sheryl Kaller’s able direction, and well worth your time.

To learn more about “Mothers and Sons,” please visit http://mothersandsonsbroadway.com/.

Posted in Burbage, Chekhov, Terrence McNally, the French, the Greeks, The Pearl Theatre Company, the Russians, theater

The vast terrain of theatrical history

Carol Schultz (seated) with Micah Stock standing behind her, Dominic Cuskern, Rachel Botchan, and Sean McNall in a scene from Terrence McNally’s “And Away We Go” at the Pearl Theatre through December 15th.
Photos by Al Foote III.

Theater has evolved over the centuries. Greek tragedies and comedies had state sponsorship, and free admission for all. Time moves on, and the theater continues to serve different audiences in different times. State assistance can also bring censorship, of course. With privatization come the headaches of raising funds to keep the shows going.  
Donna Lynne Champlin, Dominic Cuskern, Carol Schultz,
Micah Stock and Sean McNall.  Photo by Al Foote III.
Meant as a love poem to theater and its folk, Terrence McNally’s “And Away We Go,” at the Pearl Theatre Company through December 15th, mashes the traditions and tribulations of actors, acting and acting companies into a historical pastiche.

As it goes traipsing across the vast panoply of theater history, “And Away We Go,” ambles through the Greek festivals, over to Richard Burbage’s English stage, to the French and Russian revolutions and the playwrights who embodied them, to the impecunious present with a brief stop for Bert Lahr’s “Waiting for Godot” in Coconut Grove in 1956. 

“And Away We Go” succeeds at being sometimes funny, sometimes maudlin, occasionally insightful, sometimes dreary, with the French (Versailles 1789) and Russian (Moscow Art Theatre 1896) sequences gratuitous and poorly executed. Many theatrical styles and periods are overlooked, others are overbooked.

The Greeks practiced a long form that has continually been whittled down so that McNally and his contemporaries tend towards the shorter play. “And Away We Go” attempts to find its perspective and cover the full range of theatrical history in under two intermission-less hours. 

By the way, I learned that it was the French who brought us the interval. In Shakespeare’s time, the audience came and went as the actors performed.

Given the breadth of this survey, it would appear that McNally isn’t aware that you can’t do it all in one evening. Sandra Goldmark has created a scenic design that makes the stage look like a gigantic prop room. It’s also a busy day at the office for the Pearl’s troupe, all of whom are more than willing to tackle McNally’s short but expansive text. 

Sean McNall and Dominic Cuskern, both Pearl Company regulars, distinguished themselves well. Both Carol Schultz and Rachel Botchan, also long time Company members, gave fine performances, with Ms. Schultz doing a particularly nice turn as Shirley Channing, executive director of a resident theatre company.
Donna Lynne Champlin, a Broadway and off-Broadway vet making her first Pearl appearance, was very very good in all her many roles. Micah Stock, another guest at the Pearl, had some difficulty with his French playwright, Christophe Durant, but was very good as Pallas, a member of the Greek chorus, and Kenny Tobias of the Coconut Grove concession stand.

For more information about “And Away We Go,” and the Pearl Theatre Company, please visit the Pearl website.