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BUA’s ‘It’s Only a Play’ is a delightful party for audiences

Terrence McNally must have had a blast writing “It’s Only a Play,” his dishy send-up of the theater, and the cast of BUA’s current production of the play has at least as much fun being in it.

So imagine what a treat it is for the audience, sitting back in the cool comfort of the Alleyway Theatre to watch the fur and f-bombs fly.

The show is set in the boudoir of producer Julia Budder, where various people associated with a new play, “The Golden Egg,” are seeking refuge while awaiting the show’s opening night reviews – particularly the review of New York Times critic Ben Brantley.

Mostly, though, they name drop and body slam the theater community, with an ever-changing roster of celebrities regularly updated since the show’s 1982 debut. Among the first to arrive is BUA regular and drag star Jimmy Janowski, greeted with hearty applause despite being uncharacteristically costumed in a well-tailored men’s plaid tuxedo jacket, accented with a pair of flaming red socks.

Janowski becomes Jimmy Wicker, an egotistical sitcom star and best friend of the “Egg’s” writer, Peter Austin, who is handsomely played by Michael Seitz.

While Peter is a nervous, neurotic wreck, Jimmy is in his element. After all, he turned down the lead in Peter’s play, even though it was written for him, and wouldn’t mind at all if it failed without him.

With friends like this, who needs critics?

Nevertheless, one shows up.

Anthony Chase, host of “Theater Talk” on WBFO, smoothly plays against his own respected reputation by appearing as Ira Drew, a critic known for his brutal takedowns of actors and writers.

His cynicism is the opposite of the wide-eyed love Julia Budder has for the stage. Julia is a wealthy first-time producer who makes up in enthusiasm what she lacks in knowledge, and Mary Kate O’Connell plays her with a lovable daffiness. She delivers with a straight face Julia’s opinion that real theater doesn’t have to rely on “the F word or the K word” – both of which show up here, by the way.

(Janowski is a hoot muttering in the background what the K word could be: kangaroo, ketchup, someone get me a dictionary!)

As summer fare, the show could get by on its jokey barbs alone – which are updated whenever and wherever the show is produced – but McNally also uses his anxious characters to reveal genuine affection for original American theater.

Anthony Alcocer plays the British director Frank Finger – Broadway loves the British – and in this play he still fears he can do no wrong. A closet kleptomaniac, he yearns for a flop, just to know what it feels like.

On the other hand, has-been drug addled actress Virginia Noyes, portrayed with vicious energy by the excellent Lisa Ludwig, needs a hit to salvage the career she has savaged.

Their sounding board is Gus P. Head, the wide-eyed coat check guy who is new to New York and hopes to be an actor. Adam Hayes makes the most of his moments in the role, representing the magical hold that live theater can have on people.

Janowski tells the audience McNally gave them leave to change anything they wanted for the show to resonate in Buffalo, and director Drew McCabe takes him up on it.

It feels like we all have been invited to this party, and, unlike with “The Golden Egg,” it’s an invitation you don’t want to turn down.

Theater Review

“It’s Only a Play”

4 stars

Comic insider look behind the scenes of a Broadway show by Terrence McNally with a stellar ensemble case. Presented by Buffalo United Artists at Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 14. For tickets, call 886-9239 or visit buffalobua.org.

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