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Theater Review: It’s Only a Play

Jeffrey Winner, Fox Carney, Todd Andrew Ball, Cheryl David, Mouchette van Helsdingen, Peter Henry Bussian and Joe Clabby in It’s Only a Play. Photo by Doug Engalia.


Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play premiered in 1982, back when Broadway theater makers stayed up late opening night waiting for reviews in the early editions of newspapers. McNally updated the play more than once, most recently in 2014, before his death from COVID-19 complications in 2020. The result is a play that feels caught between then and now, between landlines and cell phones.

The archetypes of It’s Only a Play remain mostly accurate: wealthy but dim-witted Julia Budder (Mouchette van Helsdingen) is probably more clueless than today’s Broadway producers, and critics like Ira Drew (Jeffrey Winner) carry less clout. But corn-fed aspiring stars like Gus P. Head (Joe Clabby), hardened actresses like Virginia Noyes (Cheryl David), and earnest playwrights like Peter Austin (Fox Carney) still abound.


Mouchette van Helsdingen and Cheryl David in It’s Only a Play. Photo by Doug Engalia.


James Wicker (Todd Andrew Ball) opens the show with a phone call that proudly cops to being exposition. He skewers every character yet to enter, not to mention the opening-night play itself, The Golden Egg, in a soliloquy that would entertain a stand-up comedy audience. The writing is witty and knowing, and Ball’s delivery winningly arch and inside. He tells Gus, “This town’s going to eat you alive,” but by play’s end the adage about being in the right place at the right time turns out to be more apropos.

For two and a half hours, those associated with The Golden Egg wait in producer Julia’s bedroom for the reviews—online in this rewrite. Downstairs the opening night party rages. Gus, gleeful at his good fortune to be working the party after practically just stepping off the bus at Port Authority, races around bringing drinks. He throws armloads of wraps onto the bed, announcing the shows they represent: Hamilton’s Revolutionary-era coats, The Lion King’s furs, and so on.

James Wicker, he of the zippy opening, remains the core of the show throughout. While every character gets a moment or more, it is Wicker’s tart insights into the action that keep things moving, albeit it not at the frantically funny clip of the first scene. Golden Egg director Frank Finger (Peter Henry Bussian) finds his smooth, unflappable self-confidence tested by the reviews published over the course of It’s Only a Play. His response is a highlight of the show.

In this Theatre Forty production, Larry Eisenberg directs the comings and goings, the egos run amok and the scramble for survival. It’s an insider’s look at the world of Broadway before, as playwright Peter puts it, “We handed it over to the Brits and musicals.”


It’s Only a Play runs through April 23 at Theatre Forty, 241 S, Moreno Drive, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Free parking is available in the parking lot beneath the theater. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $35 and are available here.


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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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