Theater Review: IT’S ONLY A PLAY (The Bent in Palm Springs)

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by Jason Mannino on December 5, 2023

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


The Bent, in partnership with the Palm Springs Cultural Center, runs Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play for its final weekend this Thursday through Saturday. Go see it.

The play unfolds on the opening night celebration for the Broadway premiere of Peter Austin’s (Steve Rosenbaum) play, The Golden Egg. The opulent party is hosted at the Manhattan townhome of the affluent producer, Julia Budder (Barbara Kerr). While downstairs, celebrities flood in, the real drama unfolds upstairs in the master bedroom. Here, the cynical and self-flagellating cast, along with colleagues and friends, seek refuge as they anxiously await the reviews.

Among McNally’s eccentric characters are the unstable wunderkind director, Frank Finger (Jason Reale), the pill-popping leading lady attempting a “comeback,” Virginia Noyes (Danielle Kennedy), and the playwright’s best friend, James Wicker (Terry Ray), who turned down the play for a television series. Add a drama critic with a history of panning the playwright, Ira Drew (Jeffrey Norman), and a naive newcomer, Gus P. Head (Justin Ledesma), and you have a recipe for hilarious narcissism, childishness, and overwrought emotions.

Originally premiering Off-Broadway in 1982, McNally’s love letter to Broadway received a revival in 2014 with a star-studded cast, yet faced harsh criticism. Not sure what I was in for. The Bent, a theater company just one year old, has impressively entered its second season, demonstrating consistency in mounting plays with consistently impressive ensembles.

While It’s Only a Play is among McNally’s lighter plots with thinner characters, under the sharp direction of Larry LaFond, making his stage directorial debut, the production flourishes with wit and hilarity. LaFond skillfully extracts golden moments from the script, delivering masterful performances from the cast. Jason Reale’s portrayal of Frank Finger is delightfully wacky, and Steve Rosenbaum, stepping into the role of Peter Austin at short notice, demonstrates utter command of his instrument, giving us a master class in his award worthy performance.

Jeffrey Norman, who has been absent from the stage for seven years, makes a triumphant return, leaving us hoping he won’t make us wait that long again. Terry Ray as James Wicker provides a comedic centerpiece with massive monologues that leave the audience in stitches. The chemistry between Ray and Rosenbaum as best friends adds to the theatrical gold. Justin Ledesma’s portrayal of the star-struck, party attendant Gus P. Head adds another layer of humor as he constantly enters and exits the bedroom, delivering coats from the likes of “the whole cast of Hamilton.”

Barbara Kerr, a gem in Coachella Valley Theater, brings her comedic prowess to the role of the über-wealthy producer. Danielle Kennedy, in her Coachella Valley stage debut, adds fuel to the comedy fire as Virginia Noyes, who is attempting a stage comeback while her home arrest bracelet goes off.

In the hands of The Bent and director LaFond, It’s Only a Play becomes a theatrical delight, proving that even in thinner plots, comedic gold can be mined. This production is a testament to the company’s ability to deliver impressive ensembles and provide audiences with one of the funniest nights in the theater.

photos by Jim Cox courtesy of The Bent

It’s Only A Play
The Bent Theatre
in association with The Palm Springs Cultural Center
Camelot Theatres, 2300 East Baristo Road in Palm Springs
Thurs-Sat at 7
ends on December 10, 2023
for tickets, visit The Bent or Eventbrite

(Editor’s Note: Full disclosure — writer Jason Mannino appeared in The Bent’s first production this season, Gross Indecency).

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