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BWW Interview: Kelly O'Sullivan of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Through April 3, 2022 at Broadway In Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower.

BWW Interview: Kelly O'Sullivan of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Local actor Kelly O'Sullivan has been part of the ensemble at many theaters recognizable to local audiences, including Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and American Theater Company, a notable storefront theater that closed its doors in 2018 (and for me, it was one of the city's most beloved and iconic storefronts.) She now brings her talents to the role of Sandra in the national tour of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, now in a sit-down Chicago run through early April.

You're certainly no stranger to the Chicago theater scene. What's it been like performing live theater here again after the pandemic hiatus?

It's so wild. I was just talking to some other actor friends about it, and I think I've experienced every emotion possible because, of course, there's the joy of getting to do the thing that we love again, but there's also the nerves of, "Do we even remember how to do this? There's the frustration of being out of practice; physically doing this show eight times a week is going from zero to sixty. There's the gratitude. There's everything. It's this really bizarre cocktail of emotion. It changes on a daily basis because even though we're all back to performing we're not post-pandemic. We're all dealing with shutdowns regularly, too, or the possibility of shutdown. What we've all learned is the unpredictable of nature of this business. It's everything all at once. It's mostly really lovely.

Many of the Chicago productions you've performed in previously have been serious dramas. THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is quite a departure from that! How did you get into the mindset of performing in a farce, and what was your process for discovering the character of Sandra?

BWW Interview: Kelly O'Sullivan of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG ensemble

It is so different. I think something that helps for us is that the characters experience the show as a tragedy. For them it is so horrifying, or at least to my character it is so horrifying, the extent it goes wrong. The more we don't play for laughs and the more we play for the reality of the characters in this play, then of course the laughs come. I think in the beginning I was like, "Oh, I hope I get a laugh here." And then once I gave over to playing the truth, however silly the truth is of the moment, it became easier and more freeing. There's something to be said for the sad clown.

On that note, it seems like this is very much an ensemble piece and farce also relies upon the actors very much believing in the reality of the play, no matter how absurd the situations become. How did you go about building that rapport with your fellow actors, and how do you all establish that baseline of truth that's necessary to make a play like this one work?

I feel like we were really thrown into it together and a lot of the camaraderie came out of that. We rehearsed in New York on the Off-Broadway set because the set is such a crucial element. For many of us, this is our first project back in live houses and that felt instantly bonding.

The director Matt DiCarlo has this refrain he drilled into us over and over: Play the simplicity, play the truth, and the laugh will come. And we still get notes on that. And I'm a culprit of this. It feels good to go for the laugh and get it. But you don't want to play the piece to get one laugh at one moment. It's tricky, but it's really fun too.

Farces like THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG can be really physically demanding. How do you sustain your energy during performances?

BWW Interview: Kelly O'Sullivan of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago
Kelly O'Sullivan and Jarred Webb
in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

I'm very lucky in that I have a break in the show. Something happens to my character, and I must leave the stage for a while. So that helps a lot. We all have physical therapy twice a week. It's a physically exhausting show, and we all have parts of our bodies where it's like, "Oh wow, doing this over and over again is really starting to take a toll."

We all try to be kind to ourselves and do the basics we know will help: eat properly, stay really hydrated. I think some of the actors in the show who are used to doing musical theater are more equipped than someone like myself, who is used to sitting on a couch in these dramas and having conversations across the stage.

What do you hope Chicago audiences take away from THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG?

I hope they have a blast. I hope that it gives a real sense of lightness and joy and silliness. I know when I went and saw the show in New York, I had such a great time. It had been such a long time since I was in a theater and had that experience of laughing with a group...there are moments in the show where I screamed because i was so taken off guard or I looked over at the person who I was seeing the show with and we had this exchange of, "Oh my god, I can't believe that happened." I hope the audience has the experience of communal joy and silliness for two hours.

Looking back on the other local Chicago productions in which you have performed, what would you say are some of your fondest memories? What have been some of your most memorable roles?

I absolutely loved THE HUMANS at American Theater Company. And not even because it went on to do incredible things. I can't wait to see the movie. PJ Paparelli [the former artistic director of American Theater Company] directed that, and he passed a few years later. I was a member of that company, and that cast was filled with incredible humans, like Keith Kupferer and Hanna Dworkin. That show was so special because of the humans involved. It was about family and it felt like we were a family.

I also adored doing THE SEAGULL at the Goodman directed by Robert Falls because it was a very specific rehearsal process. It was eight weeks of rehearsal in which we had no blocking. Every night was an exploration. There was such an incredible sense of freedom, and it felt so contemporary. It was Chekhov, and it brought something that a lot of people thought was about teacups and sitting quietly and talking about Moscow. It was really about the ensemble.

What would you like to see happen for the future of Chicago theater?

I mean something that I really hope for is that we continue to have this sort of scrappy ability to put on plays at all levels and all sizes. Something that I worried about in the pandemic was that a lot of theater companies are hanging on by a thread financially, but those are often the companies that are putting out the most exciting and experimental work. I hope Chicago is able to maintain the breadth of work that has been put on. I hope there continue to be these up-and-coming companies that put on theater in a garage. Steppenwolf continues to be a hub and I know that [Co-Artistic Directors] Glenn [Davis] and Audrey [Francis] want to continue that. I hope that we're able to continue to make all different kinds of work with that foundation of ensemble.

To [tie it back to] THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, they could have cast an all-New York ensemble and brought them here and they chose to cast an entirely Chicago ensemble. I think oftentimes when these larger productions come in it feels like there's not a trust in the community that's already here, and I so value and appreciate that this production said, "No, Chicago is filled with some of the best actors, and so why not just go ahead and cast them?" And I hope that continues.

See Kelly O'Sullivan and her fellow Chicago ensemble members in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG through April 3, 2022 at Broadway In Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Visit broadwayinchicago.com for tickets.

Interview by Rachel Weinberg

Headshot courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

Production Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel



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From This Author - Rachel Weinberg