BWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is a Perfect Recipe for Hysterical Disaster
A play within a play, The Play that Goes Wrong is the tale of the Cornley University Drama Society which, despite several earlier snags, is opening their 1920s murder mystery, The Murder at Haversham Manor. In the moments just before the show opens, an audience member is recruited to help the tech crew (Ryan George as Trevor Watson and Ka-Ling Cheung as Annie Twilloil) mend a few set issues. No biggie, though. It's just a broken mantlepiece that holds several key props. And a main entrance from backstage with a door that won't stay closed. Or open. Or closed. There are a couple of floor planks that need to be nailed in, still. And there's a missing Duran Duran CD somewhere in the theatre. Oh, and a missing dog. What could possibly go wrong? Right?
Soon, it's showtime and Chris Bean (Michael Keyloun), the Director and President of the Cornley University Drama Society (and Designer and Prop Maker and Box Office Manager and Press & PR person and Dramaturg and Voice Coach and Dialect Coach and Fight Choreographer) who also plays Inspector Carter, steps into his misdirected spotlight and introduces the play, telling us it is his "directorial dayboo."
Enter Cornley U Drama Society member Jonathan Harris as Charles Haversham (Benjamin Curns), the murdered millionaire - dun dun dun - whose first entrance sets the tone for a rollicking evening of laughter. There's also Robert Grove as Thomas Colleymoore (John Rapson), whose booming voice and stagey postures are everything. And Dennis Tyde as Perkins the butler (Evan Zes), with a face full of old-age makeup that is mind-blowingly ridiculous. There's Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Ruth Pferdehirt), the melodramatic fiancée whose facial expressions and periodic "episodes" are the very definition of diva. And Max Bennett as Cecil Haversham/the gardener (Matthew McGloin), whose apparent dance background finds its way into his funnily dramatic characters.
The whodunit plot is pretty much irrelevant, because we are here to see the players bomb at every turn and boy, do they deliver! There's no shortage of mispronounced words, accidental trips, set malfunctions, fourth wall breaks, "Line!" requests, backstage glitches, missed sound cues, misplaced props, underacting, overacting, upstaging, concussions. . .. However, as every actor knows, the show must go on! So on and on and on it goes, with sidesplittingly funny challenges at every turn. Here it must be noted that it takes great skill and focus for good actors like these to pretend to perform so poorly. It's obvious they are having the time of their lives, even as they are delivering the best worst performance ever. It is impossible to single anyone out, because this ensemble works in such flawless collaboration with one another to create the biggest onstage mess you've likely ever seen. They are all equally as silly, outrageous, and nonsensical, and all prompt repeated out-loud giggles.
Peter and Margery Spack's scenic design is a treat, with details in every nook and cranny that are like the sweetest eye candy. Lauren T. Roark's costumes will make you smile and even laugh, as many pieces take on lives of their own. Kirk Bookman's lighting and Rusty Wandall's sound design are well coordinated with everything wrong being so wonderfully right.
The Rep outdoes itself with this one, as you are in for a fun night of comedy, comedy, and more comedy. There's no deep thinking involved here. Just come and enjoy the cheap chuckles that come with this brand of physical humor.
The Play that Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields is directed by Melissa Rain Anderson and plays at The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts through April 7. Repertory St. Louis is the first U.S. theatre to self-produce this show outside of New York City, and the only theatre being allowed to self-produce the play while it makes its national tour. It is also the final show of The Rep's 52nd season, and the last show under Steven Woolf's 32-year leadership as Artistic Director. For tickets and more information, visit The Rep's website.