Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Goes Right At Desert Theatreworks

This is a must-see production that runs through April 30th.

By: Apr. 19, 2023
Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Goes Right At Desert Theatreworks

When I saw THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG off-Broadway in early 2020, I figured that NO community theatre would ever dare produce it - either someone would be seriously injured by one of the special effects or the play would go "right." I was wrong. Desert Theatreworks' (DTW's) hilarious production generates uproarious laughs at least once or twice a minute; I actually wanted the laughs to slow down because laughing so much made me cough. This show is a must-see.

Lance Phillips, who serves as DTW's artistic director and who directed THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, is an expert in movement theatre. Many, if not most, of the guffaws come from physical occurrences onstage, both by the actors and through silliness involving the scenery and props. But the humor, while farcical, is much more complex than The Three Stooges pulling on each other's noses or bopping each other on the head. Instead, the special effects, for those of us mourning the newly departed Broadway production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, give that show a run for its money; in fact, there is actually a chandelier that plays a part, and literal sparks fly on the set. Yet, DTW pulls all this off without automation and on a small stage whose size expands only through use of a platform on stage left. Best of all, they haven't burned the building down.

The story is almost irrelevant to the shenanigans. The show revolves around an incompetent theatre group, the Cornley players, attempting to put on a British murder mystery. They don't have enough volunteers to appear onstage, let alone finish building scenery or obtain proper props. And the combination stage manager and light and sound board operator (Jeremiah Garcia) would rather chow down on his stash of snacks than pay attention to his multiple assignments. At least the actors in the play within a play know to keep on going even if things were to go wrong. And they do go wrong ... in buckets.

Most of the actors, except Willie Eide, are well-known to Coachella Valley audiences and all have a significant amount of experience. Mr. Eide, who is making his DTW debut, splits his time between Montana and this area. I didn't think anyone could ever equal Michael Pacas, Kam Sisco, and Ron Young in physical, comedic roles (all of whom are brilliant here) but Mr. Eide manages with his screwball acrobatics and his ridiculous mugging for the troupe's imaginary audience. DTW veterans Adriana Reyes and nebbish extraordinaire Herb K. Schultz, along with relative DTW newcomer Georgina Medina, have their physical work cut out for them, as well. They, too kept me in stitches.

In a show of this type, the technical personnel are as important as the cast. The stage manager (Cecilia De La Torre) and her assistant (Janaih Williams, who also serves as part of the crew) have numerous set pieces and props to keep track of, and they succeed in making sure that nothing is where the Cornley players want it. The technical designers and operators must work against their instincts to ensure that everything they touch is perfect - perfectly awful so it breaks on cue. Paul Mariani's rickety set falls apart just as it is supposed to do. Duke Core designed the lighting and Adriana Reyes the sound (Victoria Terriquez operates the light board and Vianca Terriquez the sound board); their "unreliable" creations contribute a great deal to the zaniness. Hair and makeup artist Tess Phillips successfully turns smarmy police detective Kam Sisco into someone who looks like the Kit Kat Club's emcee from CABARET - not the look the Cornley players should be seeking in a representative of the law. Most importantly, Paul Mariani's and Adriana Reyes's special effects destroy the Cornley production without damaging DTW's stage or personnel.

A serious word for just a moment: Lance Phillips told me that he paid careful attention to safety in blocking the action. For example, at one point, an actor must roll to the edge of the high platform, but another actor keeps his hand on the first performer to ensure that he can't fall off. On another occasion, a middle-aged person must climb a ladder, but castmates stand behind him to ensure his safety. I noticed these protective actions while I was watching the production, and I was glad to see them.

Some of the things I most enjoyed in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG: The fight scenes are a riot. And don't take your eyes off the stage during the scenes with the dead body. Also,the large window results in a great deal of hilarity, as does an unreliable shelf hanging above the fireplace. Another favorite of mine is that Tess Phillips, in character, leads a group of stage crew members who are cleaning up and positioning props and pieces of the set before the show (the real one) and during the intermission. They are all acting incompetent and none of them seems to like each other - at one point two of them bop each other over the head just like the robots in the safety briefing film at Disneyland on the Star Tours ride.

Almost every bit of humor in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG involves an idiotic theatrical stereotype, but it doesn't matter - the play is well-acted, technically brilliant, and hilarious. These talented performers pull the production off with such aplomb that it's a good thing that nothing goes right.


THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG will run through Sunday, April 30, 2023, with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. except for those on Sundays, which take place at 2:00 p.m. Check the ticket purchase information at for prices or call (760) 980-1455. All performances take place at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo Street, Indio, CA 92201. In partnership with C4 Communication, DTW will have ASL Interpreters at the Saturday, April 29th performance.

The last play of the 2022-23 season is THE LAST FIVE YEARS (5/12/23-5/21/23)

PHOTO CREDIT: Ron Phillips