The Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica will present Terrence McNally’s barb-filled love letter to the madness of high-stakes New York theater, It’s Only a Play, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 9, 2020, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The production is directed by Aric Martin, produced by Kalila Horwitz, and stage managed by Ashley DeFrancesco, with costume design by Kristie Mattsson and set and lighting design by William Wilday. The cast features (in alphabetical order) Chris Aruffo, Michael Bernstein, David Callander, Joanna Churgin, Justin Heller, Kelly McReynolds, and Kent Navarette.
It’s opening night of Peter Austin’s new play as he anxiously waits to see if his show is a hit. With his career on the line, he shares his big First Night with his “best” friend, a television star, his novice producer, his doped-up diva, his genius director, a lethal drama critic, and a fresh-off-the-bus coat check attendant on his first night in Manhattan. It’s alternately raucous, ridiculous and tender — and shows that sometimes the biggest laughs happen offstage.
The playwright nervously awaiting the make-or-break review on opening night has been the setting of many stage and movie scenes. But this work from four-time Tony winner McNally (Ragtime, Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss Of The Spiderwoman) runs with the idea, taking no prisoners across two acts boasting almost as many Broadway name-drops as punch lines.
It’s Only a Play has had a long and varied history: it was originally produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1985. The Ahmanson Theatre played host to another run seven years later. A revised version successfully debuted on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in 2014 where it did so well that Variety called it “a megaseller.”
Aric Martin, a directing and acting regular at the Morgan-Wixson, helms the production. Martin was last seen as Aldopho in The Drowsy Chaperone for which he won a Geoffrey Award and he directed last season’s hit The 39 Steps. The classically trained Martin, who teaches acting at Santa Monica College, said his love of language attracted him to It’s Only a Play.
“I’m a fan of McNally to begin with,” he said. “And in this piece in particular there are a lot of word gymnastics involved.” He is grateful for the cast and the production team, which includes Producer Kalila Horwitz, Costume Designer Kristie Mattson, Stage Manager Ashley DeFrancesco, and Set Designer William Wilday.
David Callander, who portrays the playwright’s TV star best friend, has a personal connection to the material. He worked as a stage manager in New York before studying to become a psychiatrist. He’s enjoying his return to the stage to play the egotistical Wicker, who has just paid to have his Hollywood Hills pool moved.
Callander, also a McNally fan, said the play is hilarious on many levels, but will particularly entertain people who view theater fondly: “It really is a valentine to theater people.”
It’s Only a Play will be performed at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays from January 18 through February 9, 2020. Tickets are available from the theater’s box office, online at http://www.morgan-wixson.org. It’s Only A Play is a comedy but because of the language, brief drug use, and adult themed references, the show is recommended for ages 13 and up.
The Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s 73rd mainstage season continues with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, directed by Kristin Towers Rowles, March 14 through April 11, 2020; Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, directed by Elina De Santos, May 2 through 24, 2020; and The Music Man, directed by Marc Antonio Pritchett, wraps up the season from June 27 through August 1, 2020. Morgan-Wixson’s Youth Education/Entertainment Series (Y.E.S.) presents The Emperor’s New Clothes, directed by Eve Keller, from February 1 through February 16, 2020.
Easy, free parking is available a block west of the theater. There are lots of great restaurants within walking distance. Group rates are available—call the box office for details.
Submitted by Miriam Billington