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Weekly Alibi Theater Critical

Schlock and Self-Mockery at the Vortex

By Julie Birnbaum

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  "Regional theater is plays done by directors who couldn't get jobs in New York," James Wicker, one of the characters of It's Only a Play declares, with a hilariously affected toss of his head and a sniff. "Done by actors who couldn't act in New York."

Riding the wave of self-conscious plays produced in Albu-querque this summer, Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play at the Vortex keeps the audience laughing with a wonderfully directed and acted comedy about the ridiculous side of the Broadway scene. The play takes place at the townhouse of a rich, clueless, well-meaning producer named Julia Budder, played by Kathy Millé Wimmer. As the opening night cast party for her first production goes on downstairs, the scene upstairs is one of overdramatic emotion and stereotypical theater-industry neur-oses, played with a lighthearted irony.

Much of the emotion revolves around the incoming series of critical reviews, which will make or break the production. Critics are ri-diculed in all of their hyperbole and brainless cruelty--even I had to smile as one of the actresses was said to be "like a female impersonator looking for a female to imper-sonate."

The various characters, ranging from actors to writers to cab drivers, were acted with impeccable comic savvy. Wicker, played dead-on by Daric Craven, is a wickedly snotty effeminate whose TV series is on the rocks in Hollywood. Ray Rivera plays Peter Austen, the unbearably self-pitying playwright, with a memorably nasal caricature, while Shelley Epstein and Dolores Gravning gracefully and humorously capture the New Yawk "seen-it-all" attitude.

If Albuquerque theater is put together by those who couldn't make it in the city that doesn't sleep, the Vortex production proves that a good eight hours rest might help the theater world stay sane. After all, it's only a play.

--Julie Birnbaum

It's Only a Play runs through Sept. 14 at 2004 1/2 Central SE. Check the Alibi Arts Calendar for details.

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