The play that goes wrong
Earlier this summer, I planned a trip to visit relatives. One possible outing involved the Kennedy Center for a performance of “The Play That Goes Wrong.” The visit never happened, but my interest in the play remained. When Theatre Denton announced that it was on their fall lineup, I was happy for the chance to see it.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” premiered in London in 2012 as a oneact play entitled “The Murder Before Christmas”, playing at two different theatres before it opened at the West End’s Duchess Theatre in 2014 in its two-act form with its current title. It is the longest-running production in the Duchess’ almost 100-year-long history. In 2015, it won the Best New Comedy at the Laurence Olivier Awards. It was on Broadway from 2017-2019, and after a short Covid hiatus, is still available off-Broadway.
The first thing to realize is that the creators of the play were originally part of a company of improvisational actors. This background is obvious in every moment of the play: the momentum, the choreography, the layering of gags upon gags.
The next thing to understand is that the audience gets to experience two plays simultaneously. The first play is a 1920’s country house murder mystery. The second play is about a university drama club doggedly persevering through a fiasco of a performance. When you watch the actors on stage, you perceive them through both filters at the same time. Each actor is not just a member of the Cornley University Drama Society, but is also a member of the drama society enacting “The Murder at Haversham Manor” on their opening night.
The third thing to notice is what is happening on stage at the advertised start time. The play has begun before the house lights go down and the usual announcements are made! The same thing is true of the intermission.
The actors sustained their energy throughout the entire production. John Rhoads (Chris/Inspector Carter) was a terrific detective and troupe director. Jacob Drum (Jonathan/Charles) kept a straight face under challenging circumstances. Mario Sanchez II (Robert/ Thomas) was strong and confident in his role. Immanuel A. Garcia (Max/Cecil/Arthur) was delightfully hammy. Sydney Solberg (Sandra/ Florence) was a wonderfully cheesy lead actress portraying a wonderfully cheesy love interest. Ryan Davila (Dennis/ Perkins) had everyone laughing at his mispronunciations. Jojee Alvarez Allgood (Annie) was hilarious as a stage-manager- turned-emergency-understudy. Jenna Corinne Howard (Trevor) spent most of her time offstage, but her presence was always known and felt. Together, they kept the audience laughing for two solid hours.
The play is considered appropriate for 8 and up; if it was a movie, it would be considered PG. If you prefer your entertainment deep and thought-provoking, this will not deliver. But if you like well-crafted chaos, British humor, and are intrigued by the thought of crossing Monty Python with Agatha Christie, it’s worth the drive. Theatre Denton’s performances ran from Oct. 20 through Oct. 29.