THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG
Written By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Tour Directed By Matt DiCarlo
Original Broadway Direction By Mark Bell
Set Design Nigel Hook
Lighting Design Ric Mountjoy
Costume Design Roberto Surace
Sound Design Andy Johnson
Scott Cote (Dennis)
Peyton Crim (Robert)
*Brandon J. Ellis (Trevor, u/s Robert) *NOTE: Michael Thatcher reviewed on Tuesday's performance.
Angela Grovey (Annie)
Ned Noyes (Max)
Jamie Ann Romero (Sandra)
Evan Alexander Smith (Chris)
Yaegel T. Welch (Jonathan, u/s Trevor)
Reviewed Performance: 6/11/2019
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
When the curtain came down at the Winspear Opera House after Tuesdays Press night’s performance of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, my voice was raspy, my head was thumping, and I badly had to go to the loo. Why? Because I had just sat through a play that had me laughing so hard non-stop for two full hours that my brain was crashing against my cranium , my face muscles were cramping, my throat felt like sandpaper, and I was crossing my legs because I was ready to burst! These are the kinds of symptoms you will experience thanks to one hell of a side-splitting humdinger that is THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG. This is a priceless gem of a farcical play that filled the Winspear with overflowing, ruckus, riotous laughter the entire evening.
So, you must be wondering what on earth must be so funny to generate such physical reactions?
This insane, wild comedic farce comes from the minds of three Brits: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company. It made its West End debut in 2014 (where it is booked till 2020). This play earned them the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. It crossed over the seas to Broadway where it opened at the Lyceum in April 2017. It played for a healthy 745 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design for a Play.
The first thing you HAVE TO know is this: you MUST ARRIVE EARLY TO THE THEATER! DO NOT GET THERE LATE! My guest and I arrived early and sat in the house to see two techies running around the grand opera house (even going to the very top upper balcony) yelling and shouting out the name of a dog that has gone missing. Another techie is on stage trying to repair the set with yards of gaffe tape. She finally walks into the audience and picks an audience member to assist her. This becomes a ten-minute silent comedic riot scene of gaffe tape and set pieces falling apart around them. The missing dog, gaffe tape, and a set not cooperating is foreshadow for delicious comedy by then end of the evening.
The basic plot is a play within a play. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is here to perform their new play titled The Murder at Haversham Manor. It is a half-baked version of Mousetrap, think of it if Agatha Christie wrote it that after five bottles of vodka and if someone placed drugs in her sniff box. The director of this new murder mystery is Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith), and at his curtain speech he informs the audience that The Drama Society has had to work on a very limited budget, so that their past productions were…um…well…limited. Thus, their titles reflected these budgets cuts, such as The Lion and The Wardrobe, Cat, and James and the Peach or as they retitled it- James, Where's your Peach? He also apologizes to the audience for the box office mix up because we (the audience) were supposed to see HAMILTON, and now we are stuck here seeing this!
In the Playbill, Mr. Bean apologizes (he does this a lot!) to the production of EQUUS, which was supposed to perform in the theater this very week that we are currently in, but due to the scheduling error, has been forced to perform the drama in the University gymnasium. But they did leave the vaulting horse for them to use!
I just gave you a teeny tiny morsel of what to expect from this comedy! I could write two plus hours of side-splitting HYSTERICAL plot, physical bits, sight gags, one liners, and so, so, so much more. But that WOULD RUIN the play for you! You must experience all the comedic riches and surprises the way I and the audience did on Tuesday night. It makes the experience that much more rewarding.
You can clearly see why Nigel Hook won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design for A Play. There are eight human actors on stage, but the set itself is actually the NINTH character. This two-story set is so immensely VITAL, and I mean VITAL to the physical and visual comedy, as well to the pace, beats, and timing to the comedy. It makes such a visual impact within the comedy that without this set, the play would not be nowhere near as funny. This piece would NOT work without this set. It goes way beyond what was done in NOISES OFF, another comedy with a set used for comedy. It is used in so many ways. The set received OVER twelve loud thunderous waves of applause from the audience during the evening due to certain situations/obstacles that the set created for the actors. I kept thinking it must have been a nightmare of long, long nights of tech rehearsals to stage and block many of those sequences that involved the set and its various pieces. You will be astounded by the creativity of it all evening long. I highly commend the cast, crew, and tour director Matt DiCarlo on the creation of making all this run so smoothly because it looks and runs without a glitch or hiccup. From an actor and director point of view, you know it must have taken sleepless hours of rehearsals and detailed preparation of staging and blocking to make it work just right.
This company of tour de force comedic virtuosos work like a finely well-oiled machine that are so perfectly in tuned with each other’s comedic beats that made this play work so exquisitely. Each actor had a polished characterization of hysterical buffoonery and facial expressions that were never exaggerated, but instead were done with just the right look that added another coating of hilarity to their character. Those are extremely difficult qualities to find in a cast. You must know each other’s rhythms, beats, and timing. Thus you know when a moment is about to happen to you or your fellow castmates, so you allow it to develop, or an expected comedic morsel has appeared to you both, and you both instinctively know where to go with it, and comedy gold is created and achieved by both actors. That’s what you see with this fascinating cast.
Scott Cote is Perkins the butler (AKA Dennis). As Dennis the actor, he is a thespian who has three major problems, he can’t remember some cue words, so he wrote them on his hands. And he has a slight issue in pronouncing some of the words. Finally, the poor guy cannot remember his stage directions or blocking to save his life.
In the play Murder at Haversham Manor, the role of Thomas Colleymoore is played by Robert Grove, all created by Peyton Crim. As Robert, he has, shall we say a love/hate relationship with the set all evening long. He also is the unfortunate soul stuck with drinking throughout the play the..um..” scotch”. The line “God I needed that” will take a whole new meaning thanks to Crim’s delivery. Crim’s Thomas has a tendency to call for line at the most inappropriate time.
Michael Thatcher is Trevor, a tall, beefy hunk with muscled biceps who is a techie on the show as the light and sound board operator. He is also a tad peeved because someone has stolen his Duran-Duran CD collection. He embodies the attitude of tech guys we all have seen in the wings or backstage. But what happens to him in the second act….well you’ll have to see the play. (SPECIAL NOTE: Brandon J. Ellis usually plays this role, but Mr. Thatcher who understudies the role went on instead. I must commend him on his hilarious scene stealing moments in the sound booth and for his Act II scene work, his facial expressions and comedic pace, delivery had me wiping tears of laughter. Just a brilliant comedic performance!).
Another techie is Annie, played by the adorable Angela Grovey. She started the show (along with Michael Thatcher) with the pre-show antics. Annie is all business, she’s a pro, she is focused on her duties, period. As Act I of Murder at Haversham Manor unfolds before us, we see Annie…um…help? And then something happens that requires Annie to do so much more than just help in ways that I’m sure are not in the union rules of any tech crew’s handbook.
According to the playbill for the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society this is the first role and production for Max Bennett. In fact, he donated a large share of his inheritance to this very play so that it can go to Broadway. Max has two roles in the play, he plays Cecil Haversham and the gardener. In reality Max is portrayed by Ned Noyes. Max is the prototype of a thespian who uses hand gestures for every word he speaks like a highly caffeinated/did some party favors flight attendant giving pre-flight instructions before takeoff. Also, whenever something totally goes wrong on stage, or if Dennis (Scott Cote) mispronounces a word, Max completely breaks character and starts to giggle. Or if the audience applauds Max because he did something unexpected or great, he smiles, breaks the fourth walls, and walks downstage to takes a bow. It is Max who appears in Act II with the dog….let’s leave at that.
Jamie Ann Romero is the lone female stage actress in this looney bin of men as the beautiful Sandra Wilkerson, who is Florence Colleymore in the play, Thomas’s sister, and engaged to Charles Haversham. According to her bio in the playbill, Sandra played Snow White in Snow White and The Tall Broad Gentleman. As Sandra, she is an actress who has created-shall we say- a unique style of visual to display her “episodes” that her character tends to have during the play. Unfortunately, the actress is met with surprise visits from the set. But she is determined to go on with the show, no matter what. And oh, sweet Dame Judy Dench, does she ever!
Yaegel T. Welch is actor Jonathan Harris, who plays Charles Harversham, betrothed to Florence. When the play begins and the curtain rises, we see Jonathan AKA Charles dead on the chaise lounge….sort of. Welch has to play a dead body for most of the play as Jonathan. If you have been following this review so far, you can guess he doesn’t follow through on commitment of characterization here.
Finally, we have Evan Alexander Smith as Chris Bean, who plays the Inspector and directed this play. He also gives the curtain speech. Oh, and according to the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society he designed the costumes, made the props, is the box office manager, was in charge of press and PR, the dramaturg, the voice and dialect coach, the fight choreographer, and was the rehearsal role for “Mr. Fitzroy”. A tall, towering actor with boyish features you can’t help but adore the guy and root for him. His curtain speech and a speech towards the end of Act II are comedic gold. As Mr. Bean, he is the only actor who knows the script, so he does keep the show moving, but keep your eyes on him. His facial expressions on observing what is happening all around his play is priceless.
This is play that requires a company of actors playing a symphony of the greatest comedic orchestrations you have heard and visuals you have seen. Anything out of sync or out of tune will knock it off its balance and key. This cast never once did that. They all were on the same page of sheet music and key from the overture to the curtain call. They knew when to build a kernel of an organic comedic moment that the audience caught on and build on to it to earn an ear splitting, thunderous applause from the audience because it was so friggin hysterical. Each one of them had several big moments in the spotlight where the audience was in the palm of their hands, guffawing in laughter. When this happened, their fellow actors allowed that moment to happen. They didn’t step on it or tried to crush or kill it. Or tried to top it. They supported each other. I have seen (and worked with in two productions in my past) where the actors would fight or hog for the spotlight, kill the laughs for one actor only because he or she got more laughter than they did. That destroyed the production. So, this superlative company is a perfect example of how comedy MUST and SHOULD be done- as a team. Each actor of this cast was as sensational as the other, they had magnificent comedic timing, delivery, and pace. Their facial expressions had their own laugh track. They just had to look into the audience and wait till the volume of the laughter subsided before they could continue. The pace was perfection. There were times when an actor or actress actually had to speak the bland plot of the murder mystery of who killed who over the howling laughter just to keep the play moving because we the audience could not contain the volume or stifle our laughter.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is like walking through a buffet table of comedy and taking heaps of servings from such yummy dishes as: MOUSETRAP, DOWNTOWN ABBEY, CLUE the movie, NOISES OFF, THE CAROL BURNET SHOW, MONTY PYTHON, LITTLE BRITTAN, TITANIC (the movie), and AB FAB. Mix it with some fine scotch and then wrap it up with lots of black gaffe tape, that would just make the first servings of this superior comedy.
I cannot remember the last time I attended a play where I laughed that hard and that long. That is RARE- and I mean RARE in today’s theater. We need laughter so much right now in this country. This company of eight superlative actors (plus the set!) will give you their gifts of their transcendent comedic craft and I promise you that they will have you rolling in the aisles. They say laughter is the best medicine, well this cast is the cure! And you don’t even need medical insurance! Just maybe a cough drop and some Depends… just in case the line is too long at intermission!
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (National Tour)
ATT Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House, Dallas Texas
Runs through June 16, 2019
box office PHONE AND EMAIL: 214.880.0202 firstname.lastname@example.org