By Mark A. Leon
‘It’s Only a Play’ presented by Midtown Productions delivers an insanely comedic and poignant powerhouse punch.
Setting: It is opening night on Broadway for Peter Austin’s ‘Golden Egg’ and friends, family and the theater community have gathered at producer Julia Budder’s Manhattan townhouse anxiously awaiting the critics reviews. As players from the big screen, small screen and theater community emerge, the symbiotic lunacy of compliments, mockery, underhanded stabs and intellectual snobbishness creates a seamless blend of intellectual and physical comedy that the local Charleston theater has not seen for some time.
Fresh out of the cornfields of Wisconsin (okay, Madison), Michael Okas plays the bright-eyed Gus P. Head, an aspiring actor, singer and performer who has just gotten his first gig in New York taking coats for the likes of Lady Gaga, Liza Minelli and the cast of Hamilton. His boyish charm and innocence in a circle of gluttony, greed and narcissism brings a unique perspective that brings sweetness to the endless bottle of bourbon that is the acting community.
In act two, Gus breaks the tension of bad reviews and life evaluations with an inspired adaptation of ‘Defying Gravity’ that launched the audience into a standing ovation.
Jon Ballard provided a dominant performance as James Wicker, aka Wacker, the leading actor who turned down the lead role in ‘Golden Egg’, written by his best friend Peter to continue his long-standing role on an ABC sitcom. His intellectual prowess and witty charm make him a prominent figure throughout the production. As the evening progresses, his own vulnerabilities about selling out of live theater for the small screen begin to unravel until his finds a rekindling with his first true love, the theater.
Lynda Harvey-Carter takes on the role of Virginia Noyes, the Diva with absolute perfection. If I sought out an actress just slightly past her prime, but not yet accepting the realization, that is constantly drunk and strung up on cocaine and prescription pills, there is no better actor in the theater community. Her performance as the once decorated Oscar quality big screen actress being flushed out of her Hollywood life and looking for a rebirth on Broadway was close to flawless.
What critic hasn’t aspired to be a playwright or a screenwriter? He hides behind his critical assessments holding onto that childhood dream of seeing your words produced into a reality. Enter Ira Drew, played by Terry Davey. Terry is verbally tortured, ridiculed, punched and defiled with food, yet he still stands behind his profession and continues to pursue his dream of being the creator of theater magic. Terry, as Ira, performs his role with great timing, well situated dialogue and a certain off scene magic that still has him playing a critical role in scenes where he does not even have lines. Through subtle behavior and mannerisms, his flamboyant nature continues to bring importance to the stage even has his observes from the corner of stage right.
A great ensemble comedy would not be complete without the neurotic British director, who suffers for his success. Sir Frank Finger, played with beautiful precision by Xan Rogers is played so well that you won’t even know whether he is truly British or American. He is a visionary genius and a kleptomaniac. Bravo.
The producer, whom without her most generous disposable income, Broadway would be dead is played by Andrea K. McGinn in the role of Julia Budder. Julia, who has more money than a king and as much knowledge of theater as a five-year-old, is bubbly, flamboyant, warm and driven. As the supportive financial foundation of the “Golden Egg” she relies on the collective embodiment of her crew to ride the wave to success, or failure. Her playful nature and normalcy compliments that actors by neutralizing the mad cap whirlwind of emotions.
Finally, our playwright, Peter Austin whose oration, passion for the core integrity of live theater and unquestionable respect for the history of Broadway is played with vulnerability and poise by Andy Livengood. For those in the storytelling and improvisation community of Charleston, Andy is a figurehead of leadership and support for comedy and expressive performance art. His training and experience in sketch comedy and improvisation make him a tour de force in this production. From his prayer to the theater to his clever visualization of a new and revolutionary play to his outfit fit for the likes of Liberace, Peter delivers a performance to be remembered.
This two hour production will leave you in stitches, keeping you on your toes and truly understanding the unique life of a performer. It is often said that there is a fine line between creativity and insanity. In this case, the two lines clash in an off the wall comedic explosion.
We must commend Ryan C. Ahlert and Andre Hinds who co-directed this look inside the wild world of live theater. At the end of the day, when we truly put our lives in perspective and look at how we react to the little nuances, we just need to remember, ‘It’s Only a Play’.
Live theater has been given to us as a gift to invoke conversation and debate, celebrate creativity and reward us with an escape. ‘It’s Only a Play’ is a true celebration of the art of live theater and all the players that bring concept to reality.
Come out and celebrate.
Ticket Information – ‘It’s Only a Play (Midtown Productions) – October 13 – 29, 2017