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IT’S ONLY A PLAY is only up for four more nights; packed house exits laughing.

THE BASICS:  IT’S ONLY A PLAY, a comedy by four-time Tony award winning Terrence McNally presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Drew McCabe, is a fast paced, very smart ensemble play starring Anthony Alcocer, Anthony Chase, Adam Hayes, Jimmy Janowski, Lisa Ludwig, Mary Kate O’Connell, and Michael Seitz. Only up through August 14, shows are Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 7 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (886-9239). www.buffalobua.org

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  It’s opening night of rising “panicked playwright” Peter Austin’s (Michael Seitz) first Broadway play “The Golden Egg” and a lot is on the line. His very rich and very “novice producer” (Mary Kate O’Connell) is throwing a party at her East Side brownstone downstairs (off-stage) while all the on-stage action takes place in her upstairs bedroom/sitting room. It is populated singly and in ensemble over the evening by “the playwrights ‘best’ friend” (Jimmy Janowski), the new to New York but very excited to be here “coat-check guy” (Adam Hayes), the “doped-up diva” (Lisa Ludwig), the play’s “genius director” (Anthony Alcocer), and a “lethal critic” (Anthony Chase).  Everyone is anxiously waiting into the wee hours to see if the show is a hit, at least with the “big” critics (such as the N.Y. Times). There are several running gags including a bowl of dog treats that everyone assumes are candies, an ankle monitor that keeps going off at the wrong time, and the various announcements of the coat-check guy as to which famous people have arrived downstairs.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: First off, FULL DISCLOSURE, Anthony Chase, who plays the “lethal critic,” and I co-host “Theater Talk” on WBFO 88.7 FM (www.wbfo.org) heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. 

This is a very snappy comedy with quick dialog that through physical action, “dramatic” gesturing by all, and clever writing will appeal to anyone. You don’t have to be a theater critic to enjoy it and apparently every night has had a packed house. I went on a Sunday, which is nice because you get out “an hour early” (it starts at 7 p.m.) and nobody was in a rush to get home. In fact, several of the actors, led by Jimmy Janowski, came out into the lobby and “a good time was had by all” as they say.

This is a very snappy comedy with quick dialog that through physical action, “dramatic” gesturing by all, and clever writing will appeal to anyone.

It bears mentioning that this play has been fine-tuned over the years, first appearing off-off-Broadway in 1982, getting work-shopped and moved to off-Broadway and further tightened and improved up to the Broadway opening in 2014. That’s how it happens in theater.  It’s takes a lot of work to make a hit. I was surprised at the currency of many of the jokes and was assured by the cast that the lines hadn’t been re-written for 2016, but the emphasis of some sentences had changed. I don’t want to give away any of the jokes, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

I was surprised at the currency of many of the jokes and was assured by the cast that the lines hadn’t been re-written for 2016, but the emphasis of some sentences had changed.

Everyone gave fine performances and lived up to his or her “advance press.” These folks know what they’re doing and I don’t see how the play would have worked with lesser talents. However, the major presence on stage is Jimmy Janowski, in his Christmasy red-and-green plaid tuxedo jacket, his horn-rim glasses, and his patented bug-eyed stare as he reacts to the various inanities throughout the evening. His role was played on Broadway by Nathan Lane, so obviously he had big shoes to fill. Fortunately, Jimmy Janowksi has shoes of his own.

Buffalo-four

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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