West Coast premiere venerates esteemed playwright


American playwright Terrence McNally is deemed one of today’s leading American dramatists. He’s garnered four Tony awards among many others, as well as receiving an American Academy of Arts and Letters citation for fostering, assisting and sustaining excellence in American literature. McNally’s newest play, “Unusual Acts of Devotion,” opens the La Jolla Playhouse’s new season.

It runs from June 2 through 28 at Mandell Weiss Theatre.

McNally’s successes include “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Ragtime” and “The Full Monty.” He’s known for penning stories about damaged souls and loves lost and recovered. In “Unusual Acts of Devotion,” five tenants of a building gather for a birthday and end up exposing unfulfilled desires and secret longings.

Richard Thomas, who plays Chick Hogan, is the only returning cast member from the Philadelphia East Coast premiere and has performed in four other McNally plays.

“Terrence did a rewrite after the first run, and this production has a new director, Trip Cullman,” Thomas said. “Terrence’s strength is in writing characters. This story is about a young married couple, an older unmarried couple and an older woman who meet for a summer rooftop beach party and reveal what’s going on in their lives. The drama comes from how they relate to each other.”

Thomas has amassed an incredible repertoire of work. He came to fame as author John Boy on “The Waltons” TV show that aired for nearly 10 years. He’s made many films, TV show appearances and theatrical stage performances.

“‘Unusual Acts of Devotion’ is a one-act play that’s tight and strong and typical of a Terrence McNally play,” Thomas said. “It’s wicked; very funny and sad at the same time. That’s the hallmark of his plays that I love, finding the humanity and passion in a story.”

Other cast members include five-time Emmy Award-winner Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) as Mrs. Darnell, Tony Award-winner Harriet Harris (La Jolla Playhouse’s “Cry Baby”) as Josie Shelton, Joe Manganiello as Leo Belraggio, Maria Dizzia as Nadine Choate and Evan Powell as Man.

While his leading man status is well established in more than 90 films such as “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” and “Wonder Boys,” and nearly as many theatrical productions such as “Twelve Angry Men,” and “As You Like It,” Thomas said “Unusual Acts of Devotion” is very much an ensemble piece.

“When Terrence sent it to me, I liked it immediately,” he said. “It’s terrific, and all five ensemble parts are wonderful. I really loved the character of Chick.”

The cast brings a cornucopia of award accolades to their work. Roberts, named actress of the year by the American Film Institute, won a TV Guide award, was named Best Actress in a Comedy for the stage play “24 Hours,” has been nominated and won Emmys, and won an Outer Critics Circle award for McNally’s “Bad Habits.”

Harris earned a Tony and Drama Desk award for the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Drama Desk nominations for “Rude Entertainment” and “Bella, Belle of Byelorussia,” directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley.

Manganiello stars on the CW drama “One Tree Hill” and recurs on the comedy “How I Met Your Mother.” In film, he had roles in “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 3” and was a finalist for HBO’s Aspen Comedy Festival.

Dizzia’s theater credits include “In the Next Room,” “Not Waving” and “Cause for Alarm” as well as television and film credits of “Fringe,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Rachel Getting Married.”

All of these artists are enormously talented in diverse performing venues.

“Theater is my first love,” Thomas said. “It’s our goal as actors to create a character and give a performance that has a dramatic effect on the audience and is entertaining.”

‘Unusual Acts of Devotion’

  • June 2 – 28

-Mandell Weiss Theatre--La Jolla Playhouse
-2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla

-(858) 550-1010