If the sight of onstage failure (purposeful, in this case) doesn't make you cringe too much, then you're probably the target audience for this unique play-within-a-play. Following a troupe of amateur performers that are presenting a production of a fictional murder mystery, this comedy does exactly what its name implies. From flubbed lines to inadvertent destruction of the set, you'll see all your worst theatrical nightmares come to life before your eyes—in the name of laughter!
Review of 2018 staging:
The animating principle behind The Play That Goes Wrong, the scrappy British meta-comedy turned transatlantic hit, is that bad drama—if bad enough—can function as good comedy. Presented as a performance of the fictional whodunit The Murder at Haversham Manor by the amateur Cornley University Drama Society, the play takes Murphy’s Law to an exponential degree. Everything goes wrong, then wronger, then wrongest; even Nigel Hook’s set, a delightful contraption of self-destruction, seems eager to get in on the action.
The show’s play-within-a-play is a dusty Agatha Christie knockoff brimming with stock characters who boomingly declaring their intentions and secrets. Charles Haversham (Yaegel T. Welch) of Haversham Manor is dead, and a detective (Evan Alexander Smith) has been called to solve the case; the suspects include Haversham’s fiancée (Jamie Ann Romero), brother (Ned Noyes), butler (Scott Cote) and future brother-in-law (Peyton Crim). As the actors muddle through their parts, abetted and thwarted by their sound and light operator (Brandon J. Ellis) and stage manager (Angela Grovey), their commitment to the show-must-go-on ethos rarely falters, even when everything else is collapsing around them.
Written by the trio of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is as subtle as its title. The comedy is relentlessly broad—a challenge to sustain in a play that lasts nearly two and a half hours. While the zaniness always manages to top itself eventually, aided by director Matt DiCarlo’s dynamite cast, there are sizeable stretches where it gets stuck in place. It’s not that the jokes aren’t funny, it’s that they’re hurled at such a steady pace that they tend to run together. Still, the guffaws keep rolling in, much to the chagrin of Chris Bean (Smith), the director/designer/everything-else behind The Murder at Haversham Manor, who admonishes the audience for laughing at his handiwork. Alas, he’s out of luck: His awful drama has spoiled into a very fine comedy indeed.
Oriental Theatre. By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. Directed by Matt DiCarlo. Original Broadway direction by Mark Bell. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.