For a healthy dose of unadulterated mirth and pure escapism, you simply can’t do better than experiencing the joy and glee that comes from seeing “The Play That Goes Wrong,” now playing at Clowes Memorial Hall through March 1. Presented by Broadway in Indianapolis, I saw the nationally touring, Tony Award-winning, hit comedy opening night on Tuesday.
Mischief Theatre Company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields co-wrote the Broadway production that premiered at Lyceum Theatre in 2017. Later, it moved to Off-Broadway, where it continues to play today at New World Stages – Stage 4.
A slapstick comedy, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is a spoof about theatre that centers on the Cornley University Drama Society that’s attempting to stage a 1920s’ murder mystery titled “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” The show’s title says it all, suggesting that everything that can go wrong does. The accident-prone actors experience one disaster after another as they valiantly struggle to finish the play within the play. With nothing going as planned, the set, lighting, sound and props become obstacles for the actors to struggle against, all to the audience’s delight. There’s more that goes awry than just the play’s technical elements though. The hapless ensemble makes matters worse with their incompetence that includes mispronunciations, abysmal acting and bumbling of lines, all with chaotic results.
The antics of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, and Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman and Tim Allen, who’ve kept us in stitches for generations, came to mind as I joined the audience in constant laughter at the physical comedy that is the hallmark of the show. Watching characters dangle, slip, fall, climb, or get hit by doors with abandon as they crashed and smashed about the set was cause for non-stop hilarity. Making the clumsy gymnastics look so realistic required careful choreography and appreciation for the superb efforts of tour director Matt DiCarlo and the original Broadway direction of Mark Bell.
As far as performances, those of the entire cast reflected skilled actors, with impeccable timing, who executed the physical comedy with vitality and precision.
Chris Lanceley, who played the pretentious, egotistical play director, as well as its lead character, Inspector Carter, turned in a strong performance as the play’s overbearing director and pompous Inspector. Ultimately, Lanceley (the cast’s only real Englishman) showed splendid versatility and depth in his acting choices and a commanding stage appearance in general.
Turning in the production’s most colorful and vivid performance was Adam Petherbridge as Max Bennett, who plays Cecil and the gardener in the murder mystery. To say that his Cecil, the most amateur actor in the Drama Society, overacts is an understatement as his character flails about the stage, mugging for the audience and unmercifully upstaging his fellow actors.
As noted previously, the time spent (2 hours with a 20 minute intermission) is totally worth it if you are looking for a break from reality and any kind of seriousness. I would point out as well, that if you are a theatre participant, this show, with its exaggerations of onstage calamities that are every actor and stage manager’s nightmares, you will especially enjoy this romp. But really, anyone who enjoys seeing people taking pratfalls and conked on the head will find this rollick a good use of your time.
Tickets for “The Play That Goes Wrong” are on sale now and available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall box office, online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.