Hunter Intro to Theatre

"It's Only a Play" reviewed by Jonathan Trachtenberg

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      Jonathan Trachtenberg

      Performance Reflection

      THEA 101



      It’s Only A Play


      Jacobs Theatre 242 W. 45th street

      I had the pleasure of experiencing a spectacular Broadway performance of the comedic play written by Terrence McNally called It’s Only a Play. I sat in the second row of the orchestra so I had a great view of all the actors and the performance. It is a play about a group of people all sitting around waiting in an upstairs bedroom for the reviews for the first Broadway performance of a new play. There is Julia, the producer of the play, Peter, the writer, James, an old friend of Peters who gave up a chance to be in the play for a TV show that was cancelled, Virginia, an old, drug addicted actress, Frank a critic, and Gus, a coat checker with dreams to be an actor. While they wait they all make jokes about each other and different celebrities who are supposedly in attendance of the party downstairs mentioning people like Lady Gaga, Daniel Radcliffe, the cast of The Lion King and Alec Baldwin. When the reviews come back negative and the play was a flop they begin working on a new production for the very next day’s performance basing it off the conversations that they had in the room while waiting for the reviews. During this play there were three images that really stood out to me. The first was when Peter made a speech on Broadway becoming over commercialized by Disney in order to create profit rather than express the art of theatre. The second was when Gus was about to read the review of the Times on his iPhone to the group but decides to stop to take a selfie with everyone first. The third was when they decide to start working on a new script at the end of the play. These three moments, as well as the rest of the play, are designed to teach the audience the importance, culture and nature of show business.

      The first moment I mentioned was Peter giving a long monologue about the way theatre is shown on Broadway now. By taking examples from today’s top shows such as The Lion King and The Book of Mormon and comparing it to A Streetcar Named Desire, he comes to the conclusion that theatre has lost its essence. He states that before theatre was made to shock and teach audiences about human nature but is now created with the sole purpose of generating money. He then brings up that three theatres were destroyed in order to build a Marriot hotel. He calls this a disappointment because new theatres don’t open on Broadway, once a theatre is torn down that’s it, there will always be one less theatre on Broadway. While he said this monologue I really felt that while there is some truth to what he is saying as people pay money to see shows that don’t really challenge norms or display real human nature and are only good for numbing the mind for a few hours. It also foreshadows the group’s later creation of a play in the play about this very idea. This moment was pivotal in the play as we get to see what the writer, both the character and Terrance McNally, think of the state of show business.

      The next moment during the play was a very short one but I greatly enjoyed it and think that it was a commentary on society as a whole in this new age of technology. While Gus was about to read the review for their play in the Times, he decides to take a selfie with the whole group to mark this momentous occasion. They all gather around and smile for the camera even though they were all insulting each other just a moment ago. This illustrated the idea that so many people care about appearances in today’s society. People care more about how they look and appear to others than they do about important things such as their financial future. It was as moment that lasted for only fifteen seconds maximum and didn’t add anything to the overall story but it was an exposure of our culture that I found hilarious.

      The final moment during the play was them all sitting together with the critic’s screenplay all working on it together to change it to be perfect. Just a few moments ago they were all yelling and screaming at each other, even going as far as James threatening to end his 10 year long friendship with Peter. Frank then starts questioning their sudden cooperation after such a heated argument and Virginia says it was “because he was an outsider looking in.” He didn’t understand what theatre is and why people in theatre can hate each other one minute then work together the next. It was very fun watching all these characters working together by putting their talents to add something to the screen and brought the play to a great closure. It ended the play on a happy note by uniting all the characters to create a common goal and goes a bit meta as the play that they are creating is the very play that the audience is watching. I really enjoyed the little wink to the audience at the end and I feel like the play delivers some strong messages to the audience without taking itself too seriously.

      Finding images to talk about in this play was very easy because there were only a few to choose from. This play has a lot of fluff around the important moments so these moments stood out from the rest of the play and made them easier to identify. I really enjoyed the play because it had a lot of very clever humor by referencing other famous works and writers rather than silly slapstick humor. The meaning behind the play as a criticism on modern Broadway plays was a refreshing eye opener and the acting was superb. What I really enjoyed was how well the characters were written. They would go on talking about nothing related to the plot for a long time just to be able to add characterization to the characters. It was very enjoyable to watch this as it gave the characters a soul, in a sense, and made them a lot more likable. Overall this was a spectacular performance and I really enjoyed watching it.

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