BWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at Hanover Theatre In Worcester, MA
It turns out that Halloween weekend is a great time to see THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, the hilarious Tony Award-winning Broadway comedy that is a virtual bag full of tricks and treats. A madcap play-within-a-play that gives off a distinct "haunted manor" vibe, this murder mystery farce (ending its very limited run at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester with two shows on Sunday, November 3) is every small theater company's nightmare of wobbly sets, missing props and malapropisms, miscues and missed cues, and reticent understudies who eventually can't get enough of the limelight.
As we enter, we see the Cornley University Drama Society cast and crew making last-minute preparations for its very low-budget presentation of The Murder at Haversham Manor. Deadly earnest (but also somehow telegraphing trepidation of things to come), the stage manager Annie (Bianca Horn) and lighting and sound designer Trevor (Jason Bowen) are like one-armed paper hangers as they try to secure the set and dress it in 1920s British drawing room style. Meanwhile Chris Bean (Chris Lanceley), the players' director, designer, and business Jack of all trades who also stars as Inspector Carter in the show, gives an enthusiastic rah-rah curtain speech despite the fact that his face shows a modicum of dread.
Their seeming premonitions prove true, but no one could ever have predicted to what extent the play actually goes wrong. To share details of the performance's unintended antics would be to give away far too much of the fun, so suffice it to say that the murder mystery itself is just a formulaic skeleton upon which to hang marvelous mayhem.
The cast and unseen crew deserve mad props for their intrepid navigation of a theatrical minefield. Actors double as acrobats at times, dodging detritus and taking pratfalls that could land them in the hospital if not executed perfectly. Lighting and sound techs and stagehands create effects with split-second - and side-splitting - timing, making the ridiculous look genuinely accidental. The fluidity with which the cast and crew carry out their controlled chaos is truly remarkable. One crisis leads to another, and by the time the play's murder (remember that?) is finally solved, it's a wonder there aren't more corpses littering the stage.
Within the play, Lanceley is the perfectly officious inspector who may or may not be hiding a mystery of his own. Chris French excels as the befuddled Charles Haversham who inadvertently keeps reappearing, despite being the murder victim we see lying prone at the top of the show. Adam Petherbridge is a delightful Cecil Haversham, brother to Charles and secret lover to Charles' fiancée, Florence Colleymoore (Jacqueline Jarrold). Michael Thatcher is the suspicious Thomas Colleymoore, Florence's brother and shady businessman. Todd Buonopane is the forgetful actor Dennis, adding bumbling buffoonery to his Perkins, the faithful Haversham manservant. All are expert comedians - masters of the double take and exquisitely, deliberately hammy.
Not to be outdone, the publicity people get in on the fun, too, riffing on the Cornley University Drama Society in the Hanover Theatre program. Be sure to read BOTH sets of cast bios plus the message from the president. London's Mischief Theatre, the original creator of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, is aptly named, indeed.
(Photos courtesy of Hanover Theatre)
A Mischief Theatre production, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields; original Broadway direction, Mark Bell; tour direction, Matt DiCarlo; scenic design, Nigel Hook; costume design, Roberto Surace; lighting design, Ric Mountjoy; sound design, Andrew Johnson; original music, Rob Falconer; production stage manager, Michael Danek
Performances and Tickets:
Now through November 3, Hanover Theatre, 2 Southbridge Street, Worcester, MA; tickets start at $39 and are available at the Box Office, online at www.TheHanoverTheatre.org, or by calling 877-571-7469.
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Jason Bowen, Trevor (lighting and sound operator); Chris Lancelely, Chris (Inspector Carter); Chris French, Jonathan (Charles Haversham); Michael Thatcher, Robert (Thomas Colleymoore); Todd Buonopane, Dennis (Perkins); Jacqueline Jarrold, Sandra (Florence Colleymoore); Adam Petherbridge, Max (Cecil Haversham); Bianca Horn, Annie (stage manager)