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Review: Broadway Hit THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Moves To Off-Broadway

Having recently completed 700+ performances at the Lyceum, Britain's Mischief Theatre's The Play That Goes Wrong, the 2015 Olivier Award winner for Best New Comedy, travels a trail blazed less than ten years ago by AVENUE Q to become the sixth production to follow a hit Broadway run with a move to Off-Broadway's New World Stages.

The Play That Goes Wrong
Bianca Horn and Bartley Booz
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Penned by original company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and directed for Off-Broadway by Matt DiCarlo, all the context you'll need to enjoy the wacky doings is right there in the title. Forgoing pesky details like plot and character development, the two-act evening of visual gags - many worthy of a Mack Sennett silent - pieced together by bits of verbal silliness is one of those endeavors that charges onto the stage as a force of choreographed chaos, bombarding the audience with so many jabs to the funny bone that even if only a third of them strike properly you'll be in for a sufficient number of laughs.

Arrive early to enjoy the pre-performance hijinks as last-minute preparations are attempted for the Cornley Polytechnic University Drama Society's presentation of a 1920s chestnut, "The Murder at Haversham Manor." Hints of the rocky road ahead begin as stage manager Annie (Bianca Horn) and sound/lighting operator Trevor (Ryan Vincent Anderson) are already dealing with technical snafus.

A welcoming speech by director Chris (Matt Harrington) explains how the modestly-budgeted company has had bad luck in the past finding plays suited for their small number of actors (accounting for their past productions of "Two Sisters" and "The Lion and the Wardrobe") and that they're very excited to finally be putting on a suitable piece on a larger scale.

The plot of "The Murder at Haversham Manor" turns out to be of little significance because Chris, who is also a cast member, and his on-stage colleagues of varying degrees of competence (played by Bartley Booz, Brent Bateman, Chris Lanceley, Ashley Reyes and Matt Walker) fall victim to a steady and well-paced stream of misfires. Aside from the amateur theatre standbys - missed cues, forgotten lines, mispronounced words, missing props - there's the matter of prop bottle of scotch that's been filled with paint thinner and the fact that the distracted Trevor keeps accidentally blasting his Duran Duran CD.

The Play That Goes Wrong
Ryan Vincent Anderson
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

When leading lady Sandra (Reyes) gets knocked out by an opening door, Annie gets thrown in to take her place. Though nervous at first, she grows to enjoy the spotlight, and refuses to give Sandra her role back when she recovers. For the rest of the evening, the two take whacks at each other in cartoonish bits of physical violence, trying to incapacitate the other.

While the cast members expertly pull off their madness with crack timing, the star of the show turns out to be designer Nigel Hook's Tony-winning set, whose drawing room interior is booby trapped with incompetent carpentry that causes an ever-building series of malfunctions leading gradually to an entire collapse.

But the mystery of the evening is not who committed the murder at Haversham Manor, but why such calamities all took place during this one performance. Does the Drama Society have a history of incompetence? Did someone sabotage the show? Did inexperienced replacements get thrown in at the last minute?

Its Broadway and West End success proves The Play That Goes Wrong to be a genuine audience pleaser, and the excellent company should keep 'em laughing for a healthy run in their new home, but once again, this reviewer found his enjoyment coming primarily from an appreciation of the comedic skills on display, rather than from the piece itself. A bit of empathy-inducing playwriting might elevate the show to something beyond a long, albeit amusing, skit.

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From This Author - Michael Dale