BWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Also Goes Long, but with Laughs and Gasps at Dr. Phillips Center
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG never really starts. As we walk into the Dr. Phillips Center and find our seats, stagehands are scrambling to install last-minute set pieces on stage. The curtains are already drawn back. Patrons murmur. The season ticketholders know this is unusual and probably part of the show. It takes newcomers a little longer to catch on, but by the time crew members ask a front-row guest to hammer in a fireplace mantle, it's pretty clear that this play is already going wrong. But we ain't seen nothin' yet.
A play within a play, GOES WRONG purports to be The Murder at Haversham Manor on tour - a serious murder mystery drama from the overly ambitious students at the Cornley University Drama Society. Even the evening's program maintains the charade, profiling each actor in character, their bios enthusiastically making note of their "Touring debut!"
The real mystery here is how the Drama Society earned themselves a national tour, as it's obvious right away that thespianism isn't their strong suit.
Things escalate quickly.
Set pieces break. Blood is drawn. Ambulances should be called. But the show must go on. And even though we've seen this dead body move at least a hundred times, the murder must be solved. It's Clue meets The Comedy of Errors.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is relentlessly funny. Much of it is a gentle, punny kind of comedy. But there are plenty of literal LOLs too. The smile muscles in my face were hurting by the end of the night.
I suppose that's to be expected with a title like GOES WRONG, but it's the humanity underpinning the comedy that really surprised me. The "students" are so earnest in their efforts. It's their Muppet-ish instinct to make the best of a bad mistake under a spotlight that makes the show so relatable.
Aren't we all just trying to do our best as the set pieces of our lives malfunction all around us?
It's the ways in which those set pieces fall and fail with such careful precision that I'll remember most. It would be reductive to refer to The Play That Goes Wrong as a stunt show, but the amount of rehearsal that must have been required to pull it off is mind-blowing. I couldn't tell you whether the stunts are death-defying, but they certainly look like it - or injury-defying, at least. Stagecraft is often likened to magic; in The Play That Goes Wrong it's more the magic shop variety than the work of a wand, but it's nevertheless a wonder.
Still, I wish that wonder would play out in one act. As it is, THE PLAY GOES WRONG runs a full two and a half hours, inclusive of a 20-minute intermission, each act a little long in the tooth.
As "Lighting & Sound Operator" Trevor and "Stage Manager" Annie Twilloil, Jason Bowen and Biana Horn are utterly believable in the ruse, which makes their talented turns (the details of which I will not spoil) all the more impressive. As "Director" and lead actor Chris Bean (who plays Inspector Carter in Haversham), Chris adopts an affable tone of pretentious theatricality, and it's a big part of what makes the whole pretense works. His comic timing is on point, particularly in one rant-heavy sequence when he breaks the fourth wall and leaves the audience truly (if briefly) unsure of whether it's part of the act.
Speaking of comic timing, Chris French milks his role as the corpse of Charles Haversham, ostensibly played by college model Jonathan Harris. As Perkins/Dennis Tyde, Todd Buonopane seems almost too good for Cornley College, but I wouldn't trade his hilarious air of distinction for anything - a classic murder mystery like this one needs that. Michael Thatcher (Robert Grove/Thomas Colleymoore), Jacqueline Jarrold (Sandra Wilkinson/Florence Colleymoore), and Adam Petherbridge (Max Bennett/Cecil Haversham) round out the cast, contributing in turn their fair share of the laughs.
What do you think of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.
Photo Credit: Photos by Jeremy Daniel, courtesy of the Dr. Phillips Center.