'The Play That Goes Wrong' gets comic timing just right in Chicago debut
"The Play That Goes Wrong" -- ★ ★ ★
Logic flies out the window when it comes to "The Play That Goes Wrong," the international hit comedy making an uproarious touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. But most audiences won't mind this respite from reality, since the actors-playing-actors' gaffes and slapstick gags keep the humor spinning to ever loonier heights.
"The Play That Goes Wrong" was first dreamed up by the Mischief Theatre Company in London in 2012, eventually reaching Broadway in 2017. Co-authored by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the play serves as a sleek vehicle to contain most of the mishaps, missteps or outright disasters you can have onstage.
Ostensibly what's being presented is "The Murder at Haversham Manor," an Agatha Christie-style mystery produced by the overly ambitious Cornley University Drama Society. But it devolves into nonstop mayhem.
Arrive early to spot the stagehands Trevor (Brandon J. Ellis) and Annie (Angela Grovey) scurrying around to fix broken scenery and find missing props in the auditorium. They may even ask for your help (so watch out).
The haughty director/performer Chris (Evan Alexander Smith) then delivers a hopeful pre-curtain speech before diving into the showy role of the inquisitive Inspector Carter. Yet everything in the mystery's staging steps off on the wrong foot, with diminishing chances of recovery.
Yaegel T. Welch is hilarious as Jonathan, an actor whose efforts to play a corpse continually get thwarted by his clumsy castmates and the off-kilter lighting (a credit to designer Ric Mountjoy). Meanwhile, Scott Cote makes a great running gag of memory lapses and mispronunciation as the actor Dennis portraying the butler Perkins.
As secret lovers played by Max and Sandra, Ned Noyes and Jamie Ann Romero are amusingly awkward at embodying believable intimacy. All the while Peyton Crim as Robert gruffly stomps about as the commanding character Thomas Colleymoore.
Navigating through the cringeworthy choreography of trips, falls and vicious fights, the cast amazes at every turn. The actors truly have mastered the often nail-biting comic staging, as restaged for the tour by Matt DiCarlo from Mark Bell's original Broadway work.
Scenic designer Nigel Hook also wows on a major scale with his Tony Award-winning set. Get ready to repeatedly gasp as the stage goes haywire in increasingly ingenious ways.
Where "The Play That Goes Wrong" lives up to its title (and not in the good way) is its reliance on repeating some gags that stretch credibility even for a farce. For instance, there's thrice too many scenes of caustic liquid spit-takes, while the "we-lost-our-places-in-the-script" bit at the end of Act I overstays its welcome.
And when compared to other farces, "The Play That Goes Wrong" pales in comparison to memories of "Noises Off." Michael Frayn's 1982 backstage farce is far more cleverly constructed and grounded in the truth of an unraveling acting company. "The Play That Goes Wrong," in contrast, comes off as all surface and silly flash without a beating heart.
Yet if you're looking for a hearty two-hour laugh-a-thon for the holiday season, "The Play That Goes Wrong" is the epitome of truth in advertising. Here, "wrong" can feel just right.
• • •
Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Dec. 9); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, Dec. 12); through Dec. 16
Running time: About 2 hours 10 minutes with intermission
Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking
Rating: One fleeting profanity and lots of physical (if often unintentional) violence