Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic
What I enjoyed about “The Play That Goes Wrong” by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company is that it’s a play within a play. We are sitting in the audience watching “The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society" perform their newest murder mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”
As my daughter and I took our seats, a distinguished man approached my daughter asking her if she has seen a dog. Soon we learn that this is Director Chris Bean, who also plays Inspector Carter (Evan Alexander Smith) in “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” For about 15 minutes before the house lights dim and the show begins, three different cast members saunter around aisles looking for Winston, the missing dog. The hilarious stage manager of the Society show, Annie Twilloil (Angela Grovey) approached a nearby theater goer named Josh and asked if he owned a dog. When he relied “Yes,” Annie offers to pay for an Uber if he goes home to get his dog. It’s a hilarious interaction.
More pre-show fun includes beefy Drama Society lighting and sound operator Trevor Watson (Brandon J. Ellis) making last minute adjustments onstage. We watch as he adjusts s door that has a mind of its own and refuses to stay closed. Trevor also nails a floor board, while Annie attempts to repair a broken mantlepiece with duct tape. Unable to fix it alone, Annie goes into the audience and selects a person to come onstage to help her with the repairs.
Trevor takes his seat in one of the second level theatre box seats to receive his cues to open the show. His area is decked out with stuffed animals, food and beverages. We can all see how he is glued to his cell phone screen, instead of what is about to take place onstage, alerting us that this show may not run smoothly.
The original Broadway direction by Mark Bell and Tour Direction by Matt DiCarlo have the actors unable to open the door to enter onstage, so they have to slide past a black out curtain to make their entrance to learn about the murder of Charles Haversham (Jonathan Harris). He is an actor who refuses to stay dead throughout this scene. Disasters befall the cast, props are misplaced, coat hooks break, there are multiple sound effect errors, lines forgotten, cues missed, and a lot of ad-libbing. It’s very silly at times, yet fun to watch.
Some of my favorite moments include the character Thomas Colleymoore (Peyton Crim) projecting eloquently with his most grand theatrical voice. Another scene stealer is the butler Perkins (Scott Cote) mispronouncing words and feeling foolish when his fellow actors correct him.
Society actor Max who plays Cecil Haversham (Ned Noyes) adores applause from the audience, inspiring his physical movement to become even more exaggerated. The same is true for actress Florence Colleymore’s (Jamie Ann Romero), “over acting” until she is knocked unconscious when a door slams into her face. Stage manager Annie (Angela Grovey) is dragged onstage to replace the only female character in the show. She soon discovers acting is more fun than working backstage, and her inner diva shines.
After the show’s intermission, when Florence recovers and takes back her role, Annie dramatically tries to upstage her.
When Inspector Carter (Evan Alexander Smith) recites a line about a ledger hidden under a pillow, only to discover the prop is not in its place, he repeats the line multiple times until someone from the audience shouts “it’s under the sofa.” Carter breaks “the fourth wall” and yells at the audience to stop laughing. “You wouldn’t laugh if you were in New York…. what a terrible audience,” which causes us all to laugh even more.
The actors seem to have so much fun while being carried in and out of windows, hiding in a grandfather clock, and sword fighting with broken blades. A phone call scene puts the actors “in a terrible position” as they spread out along the wall to keep props from falling off the walls and onto the floor.
Liquor bottles are accidentally emptied and replaced with flammable and corrosive liquid that the actors must drink, a fire ignites forcing Trevor to enter with a fire extinguisher, spraying and flustering the actors who must continue on with the scene.
After intermission the Society President and Director announces “I’m so happy to see so many of you have returned.” Butler Perkins continues to mispronounce words, and Max who plays Cecil now becomes the Gardner of Haversham Manor. He holds a dog leash with an invisible Winston pulling, barking and jumping.
The audience is on the edge of their seats when the Gardner runs into a support beam holding up the second floor library and office, while Inspector Carter (Evan Alexander Smith) and Thomas Colleymoore (Peyton Crim) are holding on for dear life as scenic designer Nigel Hook’s set starts collapsing, and this hilarious duo do everything possible to prevent falling off the set and onto the actors below.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” will have you laughing from the moment you take your seat all the way through the curtain call.
Opening night is Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m. The play continues through August 11, 2019 at the Ahmanson Theatre with performance days and times: Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
No performance on Mondays.
Run Time is 2 hours, 5 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Ticket Prices: $30 – $135 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
Call Center Theatre Group Audience Services at (213)972-4400 or go in person to The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.