"It's Only a Play" is a behind-the-scenes look at theater, especially Broadway theater. There are tremendous similarities between Broadway and Community theater, but remarkable differences as well; the main one locally I find is that actors here in Central Florida do not live or die by reviews, while as the play vividly shows, commercial actors DEFINITELY have their lives ruined (for a while, anyway) by a negative review or are giddy and joyous with a good one. "IOaP" covers the trials and tribulations of the actors, Director, Producer, a hated theater critic, and one actor who opted out of the production. The various theater tropes are heavy, and the cast added some local flair to the lines as well, so be on the lookout.
James Wicker (Dustin Lavine) is the actor who couldn't/wouldn't join the show, and stayed with his TV show instead. Lavine always brings energy and action to a role, and this is no exception. In a few scenes, his energy carries the others onstage, and is vital to keeping things moving. Lavine (who is also the Executive Director of Melon Patch) has stated he'll be pulling back from acting to try and keep Melon Patch afloat - and yes, we've lost some theaters locally and losing Melon Patch would be a hard blow, make no mistake - but losing Lavine's acting talent is a very real loss as well, one to be avoided if possible!
Gus P. Head (Giancarlo Osorio) is a new singer/actor trying to break into Broadway, and working as a waiter at the Opening Night party is a way to get known. I've critiqued Osorio before, notably in "Clue" at Melon Patch (Reviews - Oct 2020, as the 'unknown' Butler channeling Tim Curry). Here, Osorio played his struggling actor with aplomb, and his solo - performed acapella, out of the blue in Act 2 - was one of the best vocal performances I've seen as a critic!
The diva ("Virginia Noyes", played by Kelly Lake Coy) is an obnoxious stereotype, and easily recognizable to anyone who's met more than 4-5 actors. Coy also brings an energy to her part, and while grating at times in character, she shines and matches Levine's physical comedy style with her own. Her character's rampant drug use is bold, and based on other character responses, surprising and not approved of; without the reactions from the rest of the cast, it could be assumed this was just 'normal' for theater, and I was glad (whether or not called for in the script) the actors at least shunned the idea.
The Director of show, Frank Fingers (Janik Buranosky) is a successful, self-absorbed twit who longs for a show he directs to flop - he's directed a long series of shows that were critically acclaimed, but he doesn't feel like he earned the fame they've brought. Buranosky's treatment of the character as a narcissistic, whiny man with Imposter Syndrome played well into the cliche, and he was marvelous.
The show's Producer (Julia Budder, played by Jessa Halterman) has money and little theater experience. My SO and I noticed her character comes on strong initially, then over the run of the show becomes more Elle Woods ditzy and less Patti Lapone. Having seen clips of the original Broadway performance now, that seems spot on, Mrs. Halterman brings a happy energy on stage with her and has good comedic timing.
The Set was a beautiful Art Deco theme. The timeline of the show suggests modern day, which is decidedly NOT Art Deco, but - the set was gorgeous, and a collaboration between Lavine and David Clevinger (most recently handling set design at Icehouse Theater in Mt Dora).
Clevinger also has a role as the hated theater critic and budding playwright, Ira Drew. Many of the interactions with the characters hit a bit close to home as critic...
The name of show being debuted is 'The Golden Egg', written by Peter Austin (Charlie Halterman). This role seemed to be the biggest misstep of the evening; the character is supposedly deeply concerned about how this show will be reviewed, and very much wanting it to be well received, but Mr. Halterman's acting in Act 1 looked Prozac-induced = listless and with little energy. His responses to almost everything was so calm and quiet it was even hard to hear at times. It was an odd character and/or directing choice if intentional; opening week shows tend to have less energy overall as the actors have rehearsed for days straight, but only Mr. Halterman's seemed lagging. I'd hope it was just an off night, and he'd be up to usual form for the rest of the shows.
The costumes were extremely well done, mostly matching the Broadway production in style and thought. I had some reservations about Osorio's costume (a waiter at a black tie Opening night party wearing skinny jeans?!) but darned if that's not what the character wore in the original production.
Sound and light performed well - especially the party sounds from the main door. I'd have sworn there was a switch built in to the door that when opened the sound immediately kicked in - the timing was just that good, and trailed off as soon as the door was closed. The dog barking from off stage (because it's a trope that every actor knows someone in theater who has to bring their dog with them) was a bit quiet at times, and in a funny 'oops!' moment, one of the actor's cell phones being used as a prop started ringing in a dramatic moment - things happen with live props!
Finally, the last actor - the part of Torch (played by Bugsy Siegal Lavine - Dustin Lavine's dog) was not seen during the show, and frankly I'm not sure it barked off-stage. But when brought out at curtain call absolutely stole the moment and made other bows and acknowledgements superfluous.
This production's director was the Melon Patch President Laney Clark, and overall the production went well. Some small timing issues, line misses, at least one major cue drop, and like a lot of shows right now having a few more days of live, in-person run-throughs would have done wonders, but as is, a show well done and to be proud of.
GO SEE THIS SHOW!
Grade: A- (not family friendly language, drug use)