ProArts Playhouse kicks off 2019 with a ‘much deserved laugh at ourselves’
What happens when the theater is making fun of the theater? You get the hilarious “It’s Only a Play” by Terrence McNally, opening on Friday at ProArts Maui. If it sounds familiar, it’s because this production was on Broadway in 2014 starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. The characters – an actor, a playwright, a television star, an Oscar-winning diva, a critic, and a director – all have their chance to go over the top in this quick-paced and physical comedy. I talk to the Director Francis Taua about his pick for the 2019 season at ProArts Maui, and the actors that bring this comedy to life.
“’It’s Only A Play’ is about as close to an American farce as you can get, with entrances and exits from over-the-top characters that are oddly human and relatable,” says Taua. “Fast-paced, quick-witted, ‘Who’s On First’-style comedy with heart. It takes place in the bedroom of a townhouse apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan on the opening night of a new Broadway play. The director, the producer, the playwright, the playwright’s actor friend, the star of the show, the hired boy taking coats for the party, and even a theater critic are all eagerly awaiting the first of the reviews to start rolling in as different casts from different Broadway shows are partying downstairs.”
Taua was drawn to McNally’s inner voice in the show.
“Terrence McNally has a relentless wit about him but it isn’t without something important to say,” says Taua. “Amidst the lunacy and definitive skewers of theater personalities, there is a yearning and a simple plea to preserve the American play… amidst Broadway’s ever increasing affinity for movie to stage musicals and ‘star vehicles.’”
Taua also says the play practically directs itself.
“McNally is so particular in his descriptions and text that he practically directs the play for you,” says Taua. “Each character has actions and stage business so specific to their archetypes that it all comes down to casting the right people for the roles and unleashing them on each other. My job with this production was to give them traffic patterns and stay out of their way. This cast is genius.”
John Galvan plays the part of Peter Austin, the playwright of ‘The Golden Egg,’ and it’s his opening night on Broadway.
“I am very concerned about how my play will be received by the critics,” Galvan says about his character. “I am kind of like, very emotional, insecure, seeking to please everyone, but at the same time, I just want to be recognized for the work that I have done. Everyone else around me is kind of being hilarious, and outrageous. I am kind of the anchor, the heart of the play. My job is to portray the part of the story that is the serious overtone of the play, this desperate plea for the theater not to give up or sell out. I have a monologue. It’s our job to show the world that Broadway is more than just celebrity roles, special effects, and revivals. I love that about my character.”
The role of James “Jimmy” Wicker is played by David Belew who knew from the get go he wanted to do this part in the play. Belew has seen both the Broadway and the off-Broadway versions of “It’s Only a Play” and loves both versions. He couldn’t wait to take on the script to play the ultimate hypocrite.
“Jimmy thinks of himself as very funny,” Belew says. “He has enjoyed great success and made a lot of money over the last few years, but he is still very competitive with Peter and he is really hoping the play does not succeed. Why would it succeed without him? He is the actor that is out for Jimmy above all else. He is outrageously gay but he plays down to do his TV series, but it comes out when he is around theater people. He is flamboyant, he dominates the room, and thinks very highly of himself and his abilities.”
Comic relief is obvious in the form of Kathy Collin’s portrayal of Virginia Noyes, the diva in the play, whose star is starting to fade.
“This is one of the most fun roles I have had,” says Collins. “Virginia Noyes, basically she is an aging diva. She has an Oscar but is kind of washed up. She comes back to New York to star in a play written by a friend, the playwright. I love this woman. Throughout the whole show she has an ankle monitor. The script never quite explains what she did wrong, but she did something. She has to check in with the parole officer. She is a whole lot of fun. She has a really dirty mouth, but basically she does have a kind heart down in there somewhere; past the huge ego, there is a vulnerable little girl in there, somewhere. With Virginia I get to flesh out the madness of being an actress. I do so much storytelling and family entertainment that I relish the chance to say a bunch of F-words and C-words on stage. It’s fun. It is liberating.”
The director of “The Golden Egg,” the play within our play, is Frank Fingers, played by Logan Heller.
“My favorite character to watch is Logan’s character, Frank,” says Galvan. “He is neurotic and crazy; everybody thinks he is great and praises his productions but really he feels like the emperor with no clothes. He knows he is a fake and doesn’t know why everybody likes his shit.”
Heller describes Frank Fingers as really fun character that brought him back to his roots in physical comedy.
“What I love about this whole show is taking actual personalities that you would find in the theater world and heightening them,” says Heller. “You have this excessive method director Frank. He is over-the-top eccentric… As you see in the show, it is very physical, I am throwing myself all around the stage. I regained that sense of comedy within my body. Taking yourself out of the musical world. You have to really listen and not just wait to sing a song – really listening and timing for the comedy. The writing is there, you have to be on the ball so you don’t miss it. It’s using your entire body to tell a part of the story.”
Galvan also appreciated the chance to work with Taua again as a director.
“There are little moments that Francis has brought out in me and my character,” says Galvan. “Little ideas that come to life. It’s collaborative. Maui is such a great place for learning your craft. It’s less pressure than other communities. ”
Taua knows that audiences will be able to relate to “It’s Only a Play,” and personally just wants us all to have a well-deserved, good laugh.
“Mostly I would love audiences to start the year off with a much deserved laugh at ourselves,” says Taua. “Everyone will either be able to relate to or recognize at least one character on the stage if not more. There are so many name drops and hysterical sight gags with the variety of coats that come and go with references to the casts of everything from ‘Hamilton’ to ‘Aladdin,’ and the cast of ‘Matilda’ being made out to seem like a ruffian street gang run amok. It’s a fun night that I feel is much needed in the world. If we can spend the night laughing at each other and come out of it closer and with a renewed sense of championing the arts as the precious gem that it is, then I think we’ll have started the year off on the right foot.”
“It’s Only a Play”
1280 S Kihei Rd.
January 11-27. 7:30pm