It's Only a Play

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It's Only a Play
Written by Terrence McNally
Characters Julia Budder
Peter Austin
James Wicker
Virginia Noyes
Frank Finger
Ira Drew
Date premiered November 1982
Place premiered Off-Off-Broadway
Original language English
Subject Waiting for reviews of a new Broadway play
Genre Comedy
Setting A home in Manhattan

It's Only a Play is a play by Terrence McNally. The play ran Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 and Off-Broadway in 1986. The producer, playwright, director, actors and friends eagerly wait for the opening night reviews of their Broadway play.


The play was revised from its 1978 version and produced off-off-Broadway by Manhattan Punch Line at the Actors and Directors Theatre, opening in November 1982.[1][2] Paul Benedict directed, with a cast that included Francis Cuka as Julia Budder, Richard Leighton as James Wicker, Paul Guilfoyle as Frank Finger, Ken Kliban as Ira Drew and Harriet Rogers as Emma.[3]

The play was produced Off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at its New York City Center Stage 1, running from December 17, 1985 (previews), officially January 11, 1986 to January 26, 1986. Directed by John Tillinger, the cast featured Christine Baranski (Julia Budder), Paul Benedict (Ira Drew), Mark Blum (Peter Austin), James Coco (James Wicker), David Garrison (Frank Finger), Joanna Gleason (Virginia Noyes) and Florence Stanley (Emma).[4] John Tillinger was nominated for the 1986 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play.[5]

A revised version was produced by the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson at the Doolittle Theatre, Los Angeles, California in April 1992. John Tillinger directed, with a cast that featured Eileen Brennan (Virginia Noyes), Sean O'Bryan (Gus, a waiter), Charles Nelson Reilly (James Wicker), David Hyde Pierce (Frank Finger), Dana Ivey (Julia Budder), Paul Benedict (Ira Drew), Zeljko Ivanek (Peter Austin) and Doris Roberts (Emma).[4][6]

The play began its Broadway premiere at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on August 28, 2014 (in previews) and officially on October 9, 2014 in a limited 18-week engagement, through January 4, 2015. Jack O'Brien is expected to direct, with a cast that stars Nathan Lane as James Wicker and Matthew Broderick as Peter Austin. Also featured in the cast are Megan Mullally as the producer, Stockard Channing as the leading lady, F. Murray Abraham, Rupert Grint as Frank Finger and Micah Stock.[7][8][9]

McNally has said that he has rewritten the play to bring it up-to-date.[1][10]


The play was originally called Broadway, Broadway and had closed during tryouts in Philadelphia in 1978.[11] Geraldine Page and James Coco were in the Philadelphia cast, and the play was set to open on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. However, the Philadelphia reviews were negative and the Broadway opening was cancelled.[12] In 1984, McNally said that after Broadway, Broadway closed he was no longer confident, but finally realized that having a show close is not the worst thing that could happen.[13]


A wealthy first-time Broadway producer, Julia Budder, is throwing an opening night party for The Golden Egg at her luxurious Manhattan home. The playwright Peter Austin, the director, the actors, along with assorted friends and hangers-on (including a critic) nervously wait for the late-night reviews printed in the newspapers. Meanwhile they gossip and throw out the names of the celebrities who are in attendance. Virginia Noyes, the star of the show, is taking drugs. James Wicker, an old friend of the playwright, is now a successful TV actor who turned down the lead in the play, and is relieved and secretly thrilled about the bad reviews that arrive. And, although Ira Drew is a theater critic, he is very critical of the theater because he has no talent to actually participate, despite his secretly writing plays. Not discouraged by the bad reviews for The Golden Egg, the assembled parties eagerly make plans for their next play, which they know will be a hit.[14]

Cast of characters[edit]

  • Julia Budder, a first-time producer of the Broadway play The Golden Egg
  • Peter Austin, the playwright
  • James Wicker, "an egotistical but insecure comic actor who passed up a chance to star in the play for a television series—which has since been cancelled"[14]
  • Virginia Noyes, star of the play
  • Frank Finger, the young director
  • Ira Drew, theater critic
  • Emma, a no-nonsense taxi driver

Critical reception[edit]

John Simon, in his review of the 1982 Off-Off-Broadway production for New York Magazine called the play "truly amusing", while noting that the play is missing "the interaction of characters on a plot as well as confrontational level."[15]

Michael Kuchwara, in his review of the 1986 Off-Broadway production for the Associated Press, called the play a "maliciously funny diatribe about the desperate and demented business of producing a play on Broadway."[16]


  1. ^ a b Grimes, William."Broderick and Lane Heading Back to Broadway Together" The New York Times, May 1, 2014
  2. ^ Currie, Glenn. "James Earl Jones Remembers Northern, Souther Christmas" Schenectady Gazette (, December 1, 1982, p.50
  3. ^ Campbell, Mary. "'Only A Play' is a funny one" The Spokesman, (, November 24, 1982, p.21
  4. ^ a b McNally, Terrence.Script It's Only a Play:A Comedy (, Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1992, ISBN 0822205823, p.4
  5. ^ "John Tillinger, Awards", accessed May 2, 2014
  6. ^ Drake, Sylvie. "Stage Review. Updated 'Play' Skewers a Life in the Theater" Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1992
  7. ^ Gioia, Michael. " It's Only a Play, With Producers Co-Stars, Adds Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham; Broadway Opening Set", June 4, 2014
  8. ^ Gioia, Michael."Terrence McNally's 'It's Only a Play' Sets New Broadway Start Date", June 25, 2014
  9. ^ Gioia, Michael."Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane Reunite for It's Only a Play; Starry Comedy Begins Tonight on Broadway", August 28, 2014
  10. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick Will Return to Broadway in Terrence McNally Play", May 1, 2014
  11. ^ Zinman, Toby Silverman. "Primary Sources" Terrence McNally: A Casebook, (, Routledge, 2014 (First Published in 1997), ISBN 1135595984, p. 181
  12. ^ Stayton, Richard. "Stagestruck: Once a Respected Journeyman Playwright, Terrence McNally Has Become a Veritable Hit Machine, Writing About the Search for Love in This Difficult Age" Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1992 (page 4 of 5)
  13. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. "For McNally, A New Show And An Old Struggle" The New York Times, February 5, 1984
  14. ^ a b " It's Only a Play, The Story", accessed June 6, 2014
  15. ^ Simon, John. "'It's Only a Play'" New York Magazine (, December 6, 1982, p.152
  16. ^ Kuchwara, Michael. "Terrence McNally's 'It's Only A Play' Opens Off-Broadway", January 12, 1986

External links[edit]