Review: THE (ONE ACT) PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at Austin Playhouse

Awful Good Fun

By: Nov. 23, 2022
Review: THE (ONE ACT) PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at Austin Playhouse
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Austin Playhouse has unfortunately collaborated with The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society for a production of Susie H.K. Brideswell's Murder at Haversham Manor for the first show in the theatre company's new season. I'm sure there were plenty of other alternatives to choose from, but perhaps budgets and the pandemic have made it impossible to produce good works without this usually professional theatre company partnering with an arguably questionable "Drama Society." Chris Bean, the Director, Scenic and Prop Designer, Lighting Designer, Costume Designer, Sound Designer, Fight Choreographer and (the list never ends!) lead actor for this wild fiasco, tells us in his director's note that a run in at HEB with Austin Playhouse Associate Director Ben Wolfe, resulted in the collaboration. I can only wonder if Mr. Wolfe was blackmailed or kidnapped to agree to such a misfortunate opportunity. On opening night I counted no less than a dozen dropped lines and cues, doors that wouldn't open when they should, props that weren't where they should be, a decidedly lame curtain speech, and actors who were literally accidentally knocked out right on stage for all to see.

And it was all hilarious! Seriously.

THE ONE ACT PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is indeed a delightful farce. A play within a play written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, THE ONE ACT PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is the first in a quite successful series of modern farces including A CHRISTMAS CAROL GOES WRONG and PETER PAN GOES WRONG. This trio has given us comedy gold with their series of plays that garnered a number of Olivier awards across the pond. Indeed, Austin Playhouse has given us a wonderfully fun opening show in their new west campus home. Despite the rain, a full house was in attendance for this hysterical debacle.

You might guess from the title of the play within the play that this is a murder mystery, and a synopsis for that is unnecessary. I'm not even sure I can recall whodunit, or why. The premise of the play though, is not complicated either. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is presenting a production of Susie H.K. Brideswell's Murder at Haversham Manor, and everything - well- goes wrong. When we're greeted by the cast and crew of Murder at Haversham Manor, rather than the cast and crew playing the cast and crew of The One Act Play That Goes Wrong, you can guess something's afoot. It's easy to see where this farce is headed, and just how committed both Austin Playhouse and playwrights Lewis, Sayer and Shields are to this theatrical device. Down to cast bios on the theatre walls for the characters in the play, this device is evident. Fear not though, bios for our illustrious real cast are in the program.

And what a cast it is! Farce isn't an easy feat, but the Austin Playhouse ensemble is up to the task and director Ben Wolfe has given us near perfection with this production. I noticed no flaw in it's multitude of flaws. A well done farce requires impeccable comic timing. It contains physically and emotionally exaggerated behavior that should be believable. This requires taking the genre and the character seriously. Contextually speaking, it's more vital in a farce than any other kind of comedy, that the entire cast commit to BIG reactions to outlandish situations. In the 21st century, this style can sometimes get lost on actors with lesser skill. I can personally attest to the frustration, as a director, of working with actors who are too committed to "realism" to understand farce. In this production of THE ONE ACT PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, the skillful execution of the craft is evident. Director Ben Wolfe has accomplished the two great accomplishments of directing: he cast the show perfectly, and he gets the actors where they need to go for a play that calls for everyone to get it wrong in just the right way. I'm pretty sure he did much more than this, as well.

It's difficult to call out one actor as outstanding, and I hope this conveys the highest of compliments to the cast and crew of this ensemble production. Nonetheless, I do want to highlight the antics of some above and beyond work happening in the show. Tobie Minor (Robert) and Ben G. Bazan (Max) entertain us in a particular scene that involves a phone call while the set falls apart around them. It's quite deserving of applause. And kudos goes to the set crew who help make it happen. Huck Huckaby masters the art of effortlessly making low key a big deal as Dennis. And my hat is off to each actor in the cast who had to be lugged around by the others. Lisa Beckham, Chase Brewer, Sarah Chong Harmer, Scott Shipman, and Owen Ziegler round out this outstanding cast.

It's a great start to what I hope is a wonderful season for Austin Playhouse in their new home on West Campus. It's not entirely holiday fare despite the pointless Christmas tree on set, but it's totally worth a diversion from the holiday stress. I wholeheartedly encourage you to attend this fiasco of a play that runs through December 18th. THE (ONE ACT) PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, five stars; Murder at Haversham Manor, one star, would not recommend. Well done, Austin Playhouse, well done.


by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer

Directed by Ben Wolfe

November 18 - December 18, 2022

Austin Playhouse West Campus (in the University Baptist Church)

405 W 22nd St Austin, TX 78705

Tickets available here