By Laura Latzko
Waiting for a review can be a stressful time for people in the theater, even in the digital age. Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play explores this idea in an over-the-top manner, interweaving it with complicated relationships and big personalities.
Phoenix Theatre will produce the show through this Sunday, February 11.
The local production stars Ashley Stults as producer Julia Budder; D. Scott Withers, as theater critic Ira Drew; Debra K. Stevens, as starlet Virginia Noyes; Pasha Yamotahari, as playwright Peter Austin; Toby Yatso, as British director Frank Finger; Tony Latham, as coat checker and aspiring actor Gus P. Head and Rusty Ferracane, as TV actor James Wicker.
Ferracane has acted in or directed productions of Man of La Mancha; La Cage aux Follies; Enter the Guardsman; A Christmas Carol; Hamlet; The Tempest; The Music Man; Time Stands Still; Love! Valour! Compassion; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Oliver! and The 25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The actor, singer and actor has also recorded two albums and sung for churches, conventions, galas and Phoenix Symphony productions.
The best friend of the playwright, Ferracane’s character is a former theater actor who left New York to do a TV series in Los Angeles and has returned to New York to support his friend.
Ferracane tries to find a balance in playing his character in an eccentric way but still making him relatable.
“He’s kind of a typical narcissistic TV actor who is also insecure about himself and his career, as every actor is insecure about their career. He’s also got a big heart…You have to find a balance between playing [the character] broadly and genuinely and still seem like a real person. Otherwise, people just won’t relate,” Ferracane said.
Ferracane said for him, playing an actor didn’t take a great deal of research.
“Since I am in the industry and I’ve been in it for so long, and I’ve worked in LA and I’ve worked in New York and done theater for 40 years, I pretty much know this character…I can easily take parts of people I’ve met and parts of my own personality and put it into this character,” Ferracane said.
It’s Only a Play has challenged Ferracane as an actor because it is a straight comedic play. He said it takes some skill to be able to land jokes and do physical comedy in a scene with other actors.
“You have to figure out the beats of the joke, the arc of the joke. You have to figure out what space you need, if there is some physicality to it. If one of those pieces are off, the jokes die…The craft comes in when you then have to perform it and make it look spontaneous…When you have seven actors who have to then make one joke together, it’s really challenging, but that’s what’s fun too,” Ferracane said.
Ferracane said for his, the audience response makes it worth all the hard work.
“There’s nothing like hearing and audience roar with laughter at something you did,” Ferracane said.
The actor finds it important to play more serious and comedic roles. In his last show, he was Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies.
“I feel lucky and grateful that I get the opportunity to play so many characters. That’s what every actor really wants to do. You don’t want to be pigeonholed into one kind of role,” Ferracane said.
Since its debut in 1982, It’s Only a Play has been updated a number of times. The current version of the show is filled with modern-day references to Broadway shows and celebrities.
Ferracane said although audiences will likely understand the references, they don’t have to in order to find the show funny.
The play offers a glimpse into what people in the theater world go through when waiting for a review.
“It exposes the behind-the-scenes aspect of the theater and takes how people involved in mounting a play feel and just heightens it and makes it a little more fun to watch,” Ferracane said.
This season, Phoenix Theatre is also putting on Hand to God from February 2 to 25, The Boob Show from February 14 to March 18, Million Dollar Quartet from March 7 to April 15, Godspell from April 18 to May 13 and Little Shop of Horrors from May 16 to June 10.
Phoenix Theatre’s Production of It’s Only a Play
Through Sunday, February 11
2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. 2 p.m. Sunday.
Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix.
$35 to $90, depending on section and performance.