In It's Only a Play, according to producers Tom Kirdahy, Roy Furman and Ken Davenport, "it's opening night of Peter Austin's (Broderick) new play as he anxiously awaits to see if his show is a hit. With his career on the line, he shares his big First Night with his best friend, a television star (Lane), his fledgling producer (Mullally), his erratic leading lady (Channing), his wunderkind director (Grint), an infamous drama critic, and a wide-eyed coat check attendant on his first night in Manhattan. It’s alternately raucous, ridiculous and tender — reminding audiences why there’s no business like show business. Thank God!"
F. Murray Abraham, who plays Ira Drew, the critic:
I do. Some people don't; I do. But, it doesn't matter if you don't read the reviews — you know when they're bad because the phone never rings, and you go, "Oh, sh—" It's not just about an opening-night party. It's what goes on...after a play has taken years to write, months of rehearsal and previews to put together, and then you put it all on the line in one night. It [used to be about] one night, and it all happened then. Pressure was that powerful. Your whole future was determined in two hours, and that's what that tension is. It's really funny what people do in that situation. What this play does is examine — for people who have never experienced it — what happens.
Matthew Broderick, who plays Peter Austin, the playwright:
I don't really… Very rarely [do I] read them. When I was younger, I read them, but you always know the vibe. You can tell immediately how they are. But, it's described in the play that everybody sort of "pretends" it didn't happen — that's sort of the unwritten rule. You sort of don't mention them and try to pretend it doesn't matter, but it does matter, and it's very, very… It's scary, actually, to tell you the truth.
Stockard Channing, who plays Virginia Noyes, the star:
No, I don't read them, but [It's Only a Play] is a farce. This is not reality. This is the fantasy of that, so everything is heightened. There's a lot more tedium in [an] opening night than this is, but this is basically a kind of parallel universe to all of us, [where we] are waiting for that phone to ring, and [how] that's going to change our lives one way or another, and how you deal with that stuff…
Rupert Grint, who plays Frank Finger, the director:
No. I don't read them, no. I'm quite scared of them. I mean, the last play I did — it's such a big thing… They have so much power as well, so it does scare me to read them. I just wait for the quotes that come up on the marquee. But, I think it's a really interesting thing for an audience to witness...what it's like for the creative people to read reviews and the tension and misery it could cause.
Micah Stock, who plays Gus P. Head, a waiter and aspiring actor:
I made the mistake of reading reviews once, and I will never make that mistake again. [Laughs.] Whether they're good or bad, it's not what doing the play is about... In this play, because waiting for the reviews is such an important part of the play, you can draw upon those nerves, and everyone's had the experience of really hoping that something goes well, and you never know what you're going to get.
Terrence McNally, the playwright:
Well, I sort of want to know, "Did the play work for an audience?" I had just begun to stop reading reviews, actually, about the past two or three shows. I ask my husband to tell me. I say, "Were the reviews good?" He'll say, "They're great. They're mixed. They're not so hot." But, you know, really — you don't have to read them. You can tell. For example, the next day your phone does not ring. You think it's broken. Or your cell phone: nothing happens. The landline, you pick it up, see if there's a dial tone — there's a dial tone, just nobody is calling! [Laughs.] So you don't have to read the papers. I used to care a lot about… I still care! I just don't read them because the bad ones really stick with you, and the good ones never compensate for them. [Laughs.] But it took me a long time to reach that — that place where I want to know how they were in general… "Is the play gonna run?" But, I used to pour over them… I remember my first play got pretty well savaged by the critics, and I was very young. I was 24. It was called The Things That Go Bump in the Night, [which was] right next-door to the theatre that we're playing at now. It was the Royale [Theatre]. Now it's the Jacobs. And, I read all these bad reviews, and about a month later, someone said, "Have you read the review in the Sewanee Review of Literature?" I said, "No," and I went to the newsstand at Sheridan Square, and I said, "Do you have the Sewanee Review?" And, it cost like $2.50, which was a lot of money in the '60s for a magazine, and there was a scathing review of my play, and I broke down and cried. That was my delayed reaction. Sewanee Review. Even if it had been a rave, it sold not a single ticket for a show on Broadway, but that's the review…I finally got in touch with. So, this play I've been writing for all my life.
What makes you pick yourself up and say, "I'm going to do it again"? Bloody but unbowed. I think everyone who works in the theatre is bloodied, and we're all unbowed, too, because we pick ourselves up. Everyone on that stage has had their share of defeat. All had some real turkeys, and we've all had great success, but it's the community and trust and love that we have for one another — respect of talent — and we have so much fun rehearsing. Very few people say, "I'm going to work." They say, "I'm going to the theatre. I'm going to rehearsal." They don't say, "I'm going to work." It's serious play… The interchange of ideas and laughter and truth is just great. It's a privilege to be in the theatre and have had a life in it. (Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)