By Tulis McCall
There is always room in life for a good laugh. But these days, living in what I call a parallel universe where the government is a barrel of rabid monkeys led by a carnival barker, laughter is essential. And I have the perfect remedy for you – go see this play. There is NOTHING wrong with The Play That Goes Wrong. Unless you got something against laughing.
Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members, this play is now in its third year in London with more goofy productions on the landing strip. The original cast, featuring all of the writers, have been deposited on our shores to save us from thinking about Donald Trump for two hours at a time. They do it by taking Stupid and multiplying it to the 10th degree, mixing in a little Marx Brothers and adding a splash of Monty Python. The mixture is shaken, not stirred, and served over ice with a twist. The twist being your head.
The play begins before the play begins with the technical crew of the “Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” (Rob Falconer and Bryony Corrigan) making last minute adjustments to the set. This is all very subtle as the worker bees are focused on their various tasks. They occassionally look up up to see the audience filing in, which means they are running out of time. Doors must be unstuck. Mantles reattached. Books taped into place. An audience member is enlisted to help and is briefly marooned on the stage. All of this is to let you know where you are headed.
As prologue to the action we are greeted by the head of the Drama Department At Cornley, Chris Bean (Henry Shields) who apologizes for the mixup with the tickets to Hamilton and regails us with a few choice tidbits from the theatre company’s past. Limited cast had reduced past productions to Two Sisters and Cat. Ergo The Murder at Haversham Manor was a welcomed bit of business as it suited their number perfectly.
As befits a murder mystery there is a body, which, discovered by an early light cue, is very much alive. And so we begin. Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill) has been murdered on the evening of his engagement to Florence Colleymore (Charlie Russell). It is up to his butler Perkins (Jonathan Sayer), his almost future brother-in-law Thomas Colleymore (Henry Lewis), his brother Cecil Haversham (Dave Hearn) and Inspector Carter (Henry Shields) to figure out whodunit.
The figuring out involves malapropisms as well as mis-functioning props. These are a nearly lethal combination when blended with the characters PLAYING the actors (all of whom are listed in the Playbill along with the real actors… just trust me on this one). Each of these well-intentioned people is really no good at being on a stage. But their earnestness and fervor carry them to places of such great height that one can only watch with awe. Floors fall apart, elevators explode, and that mantle – well it never makes it to the second act. Doors are slammed into the people hiding behind them. Bodies are badly handled and must get rid of their own selves. And there is one bit where three people help deliver a phone call that has changed my life.
My only quibbles with this production are that the last ten minutes or so happen so fast with so much falling apart on the stage that the intricate and hilarious story dissolves, along with everything else, before our eyes. What should have been fireworks is more like a fizzle. In addition, there is some violent slapstick on this stage that is confined to the two women characters. The men have all the good lines and the women are delegated to fighting like cats. Perhaps in the next production women will sit at the writing table and such old fashioned oversights will be avoided.
Nevertheless – get the thither. Trust me. You need this much laughing.
The Play That Goes Wrong – By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields; Directed by Mark Bell
WITH: Cast Rob Falconer (Trevor), Dave Hearn (Max), Henry Lewis (Robert), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), Henry Shields (Chris), Greg Tannahill (Jonathan) and Nancy Zamit (Annie).
Sets by Nigel Hook; costumes by Roberto Surace; lighting by Ric Mountjoy; sound by Andrew Johnson; music by Rob Falconer; production stage manager, Matt DiCarlo; production manager, David Benken; British production manager, Digby Robinson; general manager, Bespoke Theatricals. A Mischief Theater production, presented by Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, Kenny Wax, Stage Presence, Catherine Schreiber, Ken Davenport, Double Gemini Productions/DeRoy-Brunish, Damion Arnold/TC Beech, Greenleaf Productions/Bard-Roth, Martian Entertainment/Jack Lane/John Yonover and Lucas McMahon.