The Mischief Theatre production of The Play That Goes Wrong, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, could be subtitled Laurel & Hardy meet the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges with a sprinkling of the comic antics of Max Sennett and Charlie Chaplin, who before “talkies,” entertained film-going audiences with his hilarious slapstick routines.
Incorporating various elements of physical and visual comedy, the madcap antics begin as the audience is taking its seats. Stagehands are checking props and set pieces in anticipation of the opening night of The Murder at Haversham Manor, presented by The Cornley University Drama Society. The plot centers on a murder that has taken place on the eve of the engagement of Florence Colleymoore (Jamie Ann Romero) to Charles Haversham (Yaegel T. Welch.) The lighting and sound operator, wonderfully played by Brandon J. Ellis is trying to close a door which, despite many attempts, simply won’t stay closed. A great example of building on a comedic action, it stays closed for a second or two and then reopens. Another visual gag centers around a piece of wood one of the actors is trying to attach as a mantle but it keeps falling off. The same actor is attempting to find a way to keep the door closed while at the same time holding up the mantle piece. He accomplishes this through the use of various limbs. The stage manager, Annie (Angela Grovey,) comes to the rescue of the malfunctioning props wielding a giant role of masking tape, which she uses to secure the mantle. More slapstick antics ensue and remember all this is taking place before the actual play begins. Later on, when the grieving fiancée has a fainting spell, Annie steps in and reads her lines from the script. Subsequently, because she’s enjoying “acting,” she gets into a physical confrontation with the actress playing Colleymore, who is dragged off stage through a pane-less window by the other actors.
With set pieces seemingly under control, and before the action actually begins, a speech is given to the audience by the director – not the brilliant original Broadway director Mark Bell or the National Tour Director Matt DiCarlo, but the play within the play director, characterized by talented Evan Alexander Smith, who also plays Inspector Carter. Confused? That’s ok. It is confusing, but laughter abounds every step of the way. He addresses the audience thanking them for their patience and apologizes for the mix-up to those people thinking they bought tickets to a performance of Hamilton. He gives some background on the 1920 mystery thriller and the action finally begins with the dead body of murdered Charles stretched out on the sofa. However, it’s hard for him to stay dead and every once in a while he moves a different part of his body. Inspector Carter arrives and tries to hang up his coat but there’s no hook and his coat falls to the floor, which he ignores. This is just one of the myriad sight gags that will keep you laughing. Another comedic element is the split “bad timing” on some of the dialogue where the reaction comes before the actual line. For example, but not necessarily in the play, someone says, “God bless you” before the sneeze. An actual example is when bad-tasting whiskey is poured and the actors spit it out with the line “That’s the best whiskey I’ve ever had.” These miss-timed or contradictory lines permeate the entire play resulting in the audience trying to catch its collective breath as these moments appear at an accelerated rate. At one point, the inspector is late on his entrance so the rest of the cast freezes in place until he finally appears and delivers his line. The audience even got into the act. One of the characters is looking for something and someone yells, “Look under the chair!”
In the genre of farce or slapstick, the brilliantly designed “non-functional” set by Nigel Hook is absolutely spot on as just when you thought nothing else could malfunction, something does. Another comical moment is when the inspector, along with Cecil Haversham, (Ned Noyes) brother of the deceased Charles, attempt to remove the body from the parlor sofa. As the not really dead body is laid on top of a stretcher, it collapses leaving a gaping hole where the canvas should be, but, ignoring that mishap, they carry out an empty stretcher. The actor playing Charles (Yaegel T. Welch) knows he shouldn’t still be on stage and slowly, ever so slowly, crawls off and despite being “dead,” turns up unexpectedly from time to time throughout the play where he is reminded by another cast member that he’s supposed to be dead. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Perkins the butler, who constantly screws up his lines and misses cues. This delightful character is wonderfully played by Scott Cote. With his almost operatic, beautiful booming bass voice, the most imposing Peyton Crim plays Florence’s brother Thomas Colleymoore. He is a master of visual comedy and perched high above the stage, he uses just about every part of his body from head to toe to keep the set pieces from falling to the floor below. Despite one technical snafu after another, all of which are ignored by the actors, Inspector Carter finally solves the crime. This is not a spoiler, but think Charles’ brother Cecil and the heart broken fiancée Florence. I hope that’s not TMI.
Contributing to the awesome technical elements of this production are Ric Mountjoy’s excellent lighting design, Roberto Surace’s costumes, Andrew Johnson’s sound design and Rob Falconer’s pre-set original “goofy” or “silly” music, which set the tone on what silliness lay ahead.
“The Play That Went Wrong”
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Run: Tuesday – Friday: 8:00 pm
Saturday: 2:00 pm & 8:00 pm
Sunday: 1:00 pm & 6:30 pm
Tickets: $30 – $135
(ticket prices are subject to change)
Closing: Sunday, August 11, 2019 – 1:00 pm
Reservations: (213) 972-4400 or
Groups: (213) 972-7231.
Deaf community: CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.