The cast of Out Front Theatre Company’s “Ruthless” / Photo by Tyler Ogburn Photography

‘It’s Only a Play’ and ‘Ruthless!’ Look to Generate Laughs

Two campy, gay-directed productions are on tap for local theater patrons.


Out director DeWayne Morgan is directing Process Theatre’s version of “It’s Only a Play” at Onstage Atlanta, written by legendary gay playwright Terrence McNally. It takes place on opening night of a Broadway show called “The Golden Egg.” At the producer’s house, the team is having an opening night party, and everyone gets inadvertently stuck in his bedroom as they await incoming critical notices.


“Every time they try and go downstairs, something happens,” Morgan told Georgia Voice.


In the mix is a has-been actress trying to get her career back on track, a playwright with his first Broadway show, his best friend, a TV actor, the director and a theater critic known for brutal reviews.


“It’s a behind-the-curtains glimpse into what it’s like to put on a show on Broadway and how heartbreaking and how exuberant it can be,” Morgan said. “Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t. It’s very farcical. The play teaches you that theater people are very resilient and no matter what happens they still keep going on to the next project.”


The play was revised from a 1978 play called “Broadway, Broadway.” Originally it premiered off-off-Broadway in 1982 and then off-Broadway four years later. McNally modernized it for a 2014 Broadway run. Originally the play had its cast waiting in the bedroom for a phone call. Considering that everyone has a cell phone these days, he added cell phones and changed references. There are also many jokes about Broadway stars and shows.


Two of the characters in the play are gay. To Morgan’s knowledge, this is only the second staging of the play in Atlanta. Process Theatre also staged it in 2018 at Out of Box Theatre.


According to Morgan, “It’s Only a Play” was one of McNally’s first big Broadway shows, and it has dramatic moments, but much more comedy.


“His shows can get deep, but this one doesn’t get as deep,” he said.


Out Front Theatre Company has just opened “Ruthless!” The musical — featuring music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley — follows eight-year-old Tina Denmark, who realizes that she was born to play the role of Pippi Longstocking and is willing to do anything to get the part, including murder.


It’s a musical parody that premiered in the early ’90s and a sendup of camp classics, such as “All About Eve,” “Auntie Mame,” “The Bad Seed” and “Gypsy.”


“It’s the type of entertainment that audiences want,” Paul Conroy, Out Front’s founder and producing artistic director and director of the production, told Georgia Voice. “It’s showy and campy and not anything serious. With everything that is going on in the world, I think we need more entertainment like that.”


Three main characters are star wannabe Tina; her mother Judy, a stereotypical 1950s housewife; and Sylvia St. Croix, a mysterious woman who comes into their lives as a talent agent.


Conroy compares this to his production of “Xanadu” a few seasons back.


“I think this is like that,” he said. “I think something can be queer without having queer characters in it.”


“Ruthless! “ recalls the screwball comedies of the ’40s and ’50s. According to Conroy, the first act is like a 1950s middle-of-nowhere living room and the second act is in a penthouse apartment in New York.


Several notable LGBTQ Atlantans will make appearances in the show.


“It’s a running joke that the father is away,” Conroy said. “At the very last moment he comes back, and we have a rotating slate of guests who will play the father.”


The new comedy/drama “Support Group for Men” is also running at Horizon Theatre. Written by Ellen Fairey and directed by Jeff Adler, the play revolves around a small group of Chicago friends who meet every Thursday to talk among themselves. There is a strict “No Ladies” policy enforced. The time period is 2017 amid discussions of #MeToo and gender issues and a new visitor shakes up the sanctity of the group. There are some surprises along the way, including an LGBTQ character.


“It’s Only a Play” runs through May 14 at Onstage Atlanta

Ruthless” runs May 4–20 at Out Front Theatre Company

“Support Group for Men” runs through May 28 at Horizon Theatre