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'Only a Play' a bit slow

Ashland Contemporary Theatre wraps up this season with Terence McNally's theatrical farce, "Its Only a Play." Set in 1985, the show portrays a cross-section of people involved in launching a new Broadway play as they wait for the opening-night reviews that will decide the production's fate.

The group includes the playwright's best friend, who turned down the lead, a pill-popping, potty-mouthed leading lady, an unbalanced playwright, the mercurial, kleptomaniac director who desperately wants a bad review, a coat-checker who wants to be an actor, a critic who is secretly a playwright, the wealthy, warmhearted producer and a sassy lady cab driver. While they wait and worry, they whine about their careers and the business of show business.

Though clearly a comedy, the play is less farcical than one might expect. Playwrights, producers and actors do worry about the critical reviews that can make or break a show, written by sometimes cruel critics who don't see the weeks of hard work that go into creating a play. As the characters repeat the line, "it's only a play," they drive home the point that it is not.

Producing a Broadway show is an exhausting effort, an emotional wringer and a financial gamble. In this regard, the play is thought-provoking, and the humor is laced with poignant observations about the work of theater that others are so quick to judge.

Directed by Evalyn Hansen, "It's Only a Play" is cast entirely with actors from the community, all of whom bring an infectious enthusiasm to their comedic roles. Standouts in the ensemble include Joe Charter as the egotistical actor James Wicker, who delivers some of the funniest lines in the show. Artistic director/actor Jeannine Grizzard gives a polished performance as Julia Budder, the play's producer, as does Jeff Golden as playwright Peter Austin. Alonzo Lee Moore is charming as Gus, the overly dramatic coat checker, who pops in and out bearing furs and gossip.

The set is small but well-detailed, and the resourceful prop-master somehow managed to acquire a tall mountain of fur coats, no small feat in a town such as Ashland.

While an end-of-season play that pays homage to the business of theater is a great idea, the in-jokes and name-dropping in the script may be lost on many in the audience. ACT anticipated this by including a name glossary in the playbill, but it still can grow tiresome as the play stretches to nearly 21/2 hours. At times, the pacing could have been quicker, but there is still a lot to enjoy in a production that drew quite a few laughs.

ACT is a nonprofit labor of love that highlights local talent and offers a lot of creativity and energy. The hard-working crew and cast make the most of a small space in the Bellview Grange, turning it into an ideal place to come in from the cold, grab some hot tea and cookies, find a comfortable seat and enjoy a show.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland.