BWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Brings Shtick, Slapstick and Spit-take Silliness to the Hobby Center
There are countless reasons why you're likely experiencing an uptick in anger, frustration, and general "what is happening to the/my world" befuddlement. Or, maybe you just had a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," during which everyone with whom you interacted, Highway 288, and the legs of your coffee table were unequivocally gunning for your happiness.
That is exactly the case for the well-intentioned cast and crew of the distinguished Cornley University Drama Society; their stateside production of the 1920's era murder-mystery, The Murder at Haversham Manor, goes ridiculously wrong in every which way, and then gets considerably worse than that. That's the plot of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields' aptly named THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG. This is not just a comedy of errors featuring a theatre company's mishaps on stage - this is essentially a two-hour extended blooper-reel, played out in real time.
The cast of THE PLAY present a masterclass in physical comedy - no easy feat, particularly in a venue as large as the Hobby Center. Director Matt DiCarlo leaned in to the escapist and absurdist qualities of the plot, eschewing all things subtle and sophisticated. For example, the well-appointed, seemingly stately British company of actors performing The Murder at Haversham Manor struggle to execute the script itself, mispronouncing a variety of words (début as "day-boo," façade as "fack-aid"), and lacking the basic theatrical understanding that one doesn't speak their stage directions aloud (e.g. "If you need me, I'll be in my quarters. Exits."). That's where the shtick begins, as THE PLAY quickly evolves into straight slapstick, including 15+ spit-takes, forgotten lines, accidentally repeated scenes, a crumbling set, and the bumbling attempts of a generous backstage crew to help save the production.
That is why most of the audience LOLed for the entire - and I mean entire - show.
I was impressed with the cast's ability to remain on-book, on-cue, and in sync. While the material is hardly complex, the pace is fast and the action is precise. Omitting even a single word or a specific movement would potentially throw off the finely-tuned dynamic and result in far fewer laughs.
As the title clearly states, things go wrong. It's those never-ending mistakes that result in near-constant hilarity, however, due to the focus on the chaotic happenings, we don't have an opportunity to really delve into any character development, or fully understand the plot of the play which the actors attempt to perform.
All of the actors delivered knockout performances - big, bold and suited for the production - however Ned Noyes as Max, the actor playing the character of Cecil Haversham, was a major standout. While multiple actors broke the 4th wall (a choice I personally love, but in this instance was clearly another thing that went 'wrong'), Noyes delighted in doing so, with his character Max believing that *all* audience laughter and applause was directed specifically toward himself, and basking in that glory with dramatic leaps, unpromoted mid-scene bows, and Cheshire-cat grins.
Nigel Hook's ingenious set is the epicenter of all that goes wrong. Practically a character itself (one which I'd name Patient Zero), the set is quite possibly the most mysterious aspect of the murder mystery, and the shining star of the farcical series of events. I strongly advise audiences to put their phones away far before the lights dim to black, and enjoy THE PLAY's equivalent of an operatic overture, in this case, a preview of the set design and whisper of the destruction to follow.
As the set-related pandemonium builds, so does the cast's unwitting efforts to deconstruct their surroundings and upend the production. But instead of a usual climax or artistic crescendo, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG brings out a wrecking ball. Sure, the gimmickery is a bit predictable, particually for fans of the more nuanced Three Stooges, and yes, the show could have absolutely been cut down in time, but it's also playfully chaotic, silly, and akin to a gory accident from which you can't look away... but funny!
Despite its slapstick shtick, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG carries an important message for theatre employees and humans alike: don't give up, carry on, and in the sage words of Tim Gunn, "Make it work." The show's history mimics that sentiment. When the Mischief Theatre first premiered THE PLAY in 2012 at the Old Red Lion pub/fringe theatre in London, their audience consisted of just four paying ticket holders. Instead of immediately closing, the company pressed on, and steadily grew in popularity. THE PLAY transferred to Trafalgar Studios in 2013, toured the UK the following year, and then found its current home at the West End's Duchess Theatre in 2015, where it won the Olivier Award for best new comedy. In 2017, THE PLAY opened on Broadway and was awarded the Tony for best scenic design. To date, the show has been seen by a whopping two-million audience members.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG brings down the house, and lights it on fire in the process. This madcap, family-friendly misadventure delivers fun, fanciful, predictable chaos. I can't guarantee that you won't groan a little, but I can promise that your rotten, miserable day wasn't nearly as bad as the one which you'll witness.
Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center presents THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, running now through March 31. For additional information and to purchase tickets, please visit thehobbycenter.org.