I admit it. In the 1990s, I was once in a show so bad that the first three words of one major newspaper review were "Not since Chernobyl..." I totally understood how the playwright played by Matthew Broderick felt in IT'S ONLY A PLAY, the show now filling seats at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre on West 45th Street.
It's Only A Play has the kind of celebrity name-dropping and wickedly catty comments about the rich and famous that put it in the same category as The Man Who Came To Dinner. Just like that play, this one could become quickly dated because of changing times and celebrity culture. Look at the funny 1940s movie adaptation of The Man Who Came To Dinner. Nowadays, some young viewers would not be familiar with Somerset Maugham, Deanna Durbin, Eleanor Roosevelt and other celebrity names dropped. But a comedy like Neil Simon's The Odd Couple can still play to the masses because it's more mainstream.
A hightone acquaintance of mine criticized Terrence McNally's It's Only A Play with the remark that name-dropping does not constitute satiric comedy. Maybe not. But I wouldn't want to spend a Saturday night with him. I wouldn't want to spend it with a snooty Poindexter know-it-all. In the last three years, I got hit hard by the Great Recession. I lost my job, my apartment and most of the stuff in it. Then I nearly lost my mother. I've been in New York City for a few weeks of auditions and job interviews. I needed some big laughs and It's Only A Play delivered. Is it a great play? No. But it is very entertaining. I would definitely go to see it again on a Saturday night.
Another thing to keep in mind is that bad reviews are often fiercely funny and quite quotable. There's snarkiness in this play that will appeal to today's social media generation.
It's Only A Play is like a theatrical version of TV's reality show, Survivor. The company of this new play wants to survive in Broadway's concrete jungle and the one person they want to vote off the island of Manhattan is the highly influential theatre critic for The New York Times. Behind the refreshing vulgarity and the bitchy comments, we see a quickly fading NYC. We lost three famous women this year who typified the inimitable New York City show biz dame -- Elaine Stritch, Lauren Bacall and Joan Rivers. Who can follow them? The Kardashians? I don't think so. In a way, McNally shows us the New York City that we're losing as our city becomes more and more generic -- like a mall.
I loved spending a night with those entertaining Terrence McNally characters. I hadn't laughed that much at a play in years. I thank It's Only A Play from the bottom of my funnybone.