Patty & Emily at It’s Only a Play

When we go into a Terrence McNally play, we have certain expectations. Maybe that’s our fault, but with Mothers and Sons fresh in our minds and Ragtime forever playing in the back of our minds, it’s hard to reconcile the straight up comedy that we saw. We expect to be moved by a Terrence McNally play. We want to laugh, yes, but also cry. So, it was just a little strange to see this early work (updated for today), It’s Only a Play.

There was a lot to like about It’s Only a Play, and that was mostly the cast. Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane especially led this show. Megan’s odd southern accent and bright optimism in her producer character nailed that type of rich person who just wants to do something fun with their money. And Nathan Lane is Nathan Lane and is great in anything, even The Addams Family (joked about in this show). We were also “introduced” (as their posters say) to Micah Stock. He was fantastic as the coat check guy, who is allowed into this crazy world, and gives the best rendition of Defying Gravity on a Broadway stage this side of 49th street. The rest of the cast was great, though with so much going on, the outsized characters played by Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham, and Rupert Grint got to be a bit much. Matthew Broderick was apparently doing his Matthew Broderick thing and seeming to float his way through everything, even his long and strange monologues on “Great American Theatre.”

The play itself was wacky and fun, though sometimes seemed to try a little too hard. There’s a bit with the coats of guests coming in, and one of the running jokes is that casts of other Broadway shows are crashing the party. But their coats look like costumes from the shows and we all know you’re not allowed to leave the theatre in your costume! For a show that calls out real people and makes very real New York theatre references, bits like this for the sake of a laugh take a way from the reality. If you’re going to have Nathan Lane mention The Addams Family (and Nathan Lane), then you have to mention Curious Incident, not make up a show when talking about those imports from London. Shows about New York often have jokes that are for New Yorkers and jokes that are for tourists. It’s Only a Play had some fantastic jokes for New Yorkers, but too many terrible jokes for tourists. If there could be a better balance and a little more heart, it might feel like a Terrence McNally play.

Patty & Emily at The Country House

Well, the title of the play says it all. It’s called The Country House. And the types of people who have country houses are typically rich families. So, here’s another play about a rich family all stuck in one place getting their shit out together. A slight twist on the formula, though borrowing from another formula: this family is all actors. So it’s a play about actors too! And frankly, it was all a lot of stuff we’ve seen before.

The cast was fine. Led by Blythe Danner, whose character makes some comment about how she wouldn’t be able to open a play on Broadway because she’s not a movie star. Cut to the marquee of the Friedman that is just a giant photo of movie star Blythe Danner. It’s supposed to be a self-aware joke, but it kind of fell flat since that tends to actually be the sad reality.Sarah Steele was really great, and funnily enough, hers was the only character who wasn’t in the “family business” of acting. Unfortunately, the play didn’t really make it easy to like any of the other characters, so the actors had to work extra hard because we think we were supposed to like them?

The one thing this play about a family didn’t have was a “big reveal.” Instead, the second act devolved into everyone discussing the unloved son and his issues with his mother. Again, how original. But not to be outdone, everyone got a chance to explain why their situation was worse. It was like that scene in Notting Hill where Julia Roberts tries to convince everyone that her life as a super rich, super famous actress is worse than the others (including a woman in a wheelchair). She doesn’t win the brownie, and neither did any of the characters in The Country House. It did have a lovely living room set, though. That’s about it.

The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged

When they were in grad school, Rachel Sullivan and Maggie Keenan-Bolger were working on a thesis together about women’s experiences in public spaces. At the end of the project, they realized sexuality was never directly discussed, though it clearly influenced the topic. Aside from already having an interest in sexuality, Maggie and Rachel have a theatre company, Honest Accomplice, which focuses on topics that aren’t openly discussed or seen as shameful. And so, The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged was born.

Patty talked to Maggie and Rachel, along with three of the actors, Liza Fischer, Holly Sansom, and (someone you might know) Emily Faye Oakley, about the experience of putting this show together. Maggie and Rachel didn’t sit down at a computer and write up a script. The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged is a devised theatre piece. It’s created by the actors working together and using real life experiences to create a piece about different aspects of sexuality. This isn’t the first production of the show. We saw the show last year, and when she saw they were doing it again, Emily wanted to be a part of it. She also wanted to be a part of telling a different kind of story. Holly, who was a part of conceiving the project the first time around, said what partly drew her to it was the varied types of people who were represented; people she didn’t normally see on stage. Liza had helped with props the first time around and comes from a more traditional theatre background. She was excited to be working on a show that was trying to say something and wasn’t focused on the commercial aspects.

So, what is it trying to say? After surveying over 2,000 people online, talking to friends, and working with the original and current casts, The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged is saying what Salt ‘n Pepa said way back in 1991: Let’s Talk About Sex. The previous production was more of a series of thematically connected scenes. While in this production, each character has a through line that you follow. Just like the rest of us, these characters are dealing with topics of body image, race and sexuality, hookup culture, gender, etc. And the hope is that you leave talking about these issues and maybe even opening up about your own experiences. The show isn’t meant to make anyone uncomfortable; it’s not gratuitously sexual or, at the other end, overly clinical. It’s a representation of many topics not often discussed; experiences people have, but don’t talk about. So, here it is. Maggie, Rachel, and their cast are having The Talk. The one about the birds and the bees.

The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged runs October 8th-12th. The show is double cast. The cast for October 8th & 10th is Samantha Cunha, Meggan Dodd, Liza Fischer, Cat Fisher, Lindsay Griffen, Austin Klich, E. Okobi, Julia Osen Averill, and Holly Sansom. The cast for October 9th, 11th, & 12th is Mike Burke, Ruth Cooper, Suzu Ledoux, Emily Faye Oakley, E. Okobi, Julia Osen Averill, Mary Parker, Holly Sansom, and Mary Sheridan. Get your tickets here.

Of course, even during this discussion of serious, important (and fun!) topics, we had to throw in our little nonsense survey for these ladies. Here it is!

PATTY & EMILY: Do you know Beth Leavel?


RACHEL SULLIVAN: Made a sad face because she doesn’t know who that is.


HOLLY SANSOM: I love her.

P&E: Which show do you most want revived?

MKB:  Side Show, but they’re doing it now!

RS:  I’ll just go with Side Show.

LF: I know they just did it, but I missed it. I want to see Angels in America.

HS: Can  we have another Ragtime that stays?

P&E: Have you ever fallen asleep on stage while pretending to be asleep or dead on stage?

MKB:  When I was five, I did The Sound of Music, and they had to cancel the rest of rehearsal because I fell asleep on the bed.

RS: I don’t know if I’ve ever had to pretend to be… I definitely haven’t ever had to be dead. I don’t think I ever had to be asleep.

LF: I did an outdoor Hamlet and was being eaten by mosquitoes when I was carried out dead. So, no.

HS: I feel like any time I ever had to be dead, I’ve been in really uncomfortable positions. So, not a factor.

P&E: What’s your favorite Broadway house?

MKB: Can I say my sister’s house?

RS: BAM. The Harvey Theater.

LF: I like the one that they did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in. The Booth. And I also have to shout-out the A.R.T. was my childhood theatre.

HS: I just went to the Winter Garden for the very first time, and I love the mezzanine. It made me feel welcome as a poor person.

P&E: Dreamcast us in a show

MKB: Side Show!

RS: Side Show?

LF: Yes.

HS: Definitely.

P&E: Do you have a monologue?

MKB: That you want me to do right now?!

RS: I probably would need a few hours.

LF: I totally do.

HS: I don’t audition any more. No.

P&E: What is the show you’ve seen the most times?

MKB: Rent

RS: I’ve seen the video…the original The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews. I know that’s not live, but that shit was my favorite.

LF: Probably The Seagull.

HS: I was weirdly obsessed with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in college.

P&E: Who would you fangirl(boy) over?

MKB: Does it have to be a Broadway person? Zoe Palmer.

RS: One of the coolest things I ever saw was this nine-hour play directed by Robert Lepage. And I think anyone that can get me to sit in a theatre for nine hours? That’s pretty cool. Or maybe Cate Blanchett.

LF: I met Frances McDormand. She came into my coffee shop. And I was like, “Are you Frances McDormand?” And she said yes. And I said, “I think you’re amazing. I’m and actress.” I was right out of college. And she said, “Oh, that’s great! There should be more actors.” And she tipped me 50 cents.

HS: Sara Ramirez.

P&E: On a scale of 1-10, how awful is the Broadway World message board?

MKB: Laughs.

RS: Not applicable?

LF: 20.

HS: I think All That Chat is worse though.

P&E: Comps and a Time Machine.

MKB: Into the Woods

RS: I feel like I’d like to go back to a really different time period, like Sarah Bernhardt. And see how the audiences dressed and how the acting styles were so different.

LF: Yeah, the original Seagull.

HS: I mean, Ragtime. The original cast.

Again, The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged runs October 8th-12th. And you can get tickets here.