Touring Broadway production lands at the Denver Center
Regardless of our station in life, degree of erudition or resistance to the lure of things like cat videos, we’ll all of us still laugh when pictures fall off the wall, someone does a spit take or an actor gets knocked out by an opening door.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” plays to our innate instinct to find humor in screwups, and it takes that comedic ball and runs with it — hard. The world being as it is today, it could be a metaphor for our times.
Or it could just be a fun, silly night at the theater.
Now playing at the Denver Center’s Buell Theater in a touring production, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is a consistently funny, finely tuned exercise in the joy of slapstick. The premise is contained in the title, with the details being that it’s a college theater production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”
It’s tempting to wonder if the conceit of a stage production just going hopelessly bad and progressively worse can sustain itself for two acts. I must admit at intermission I wondered how they could top things. All of the greatest hits of bad theater had been trotted out already — from bungled lines and misaligned spotlights to set pieces falling down or over, missed cues and, yes, an actress knocked unconscious and then unceremoniously dragged through an open window, panties a-showin’.
But this show didn’t make it all the way from London to Broadway to worldwide touring productions by letting off the gas in Act II. The nine characters come back, hoping things will somehow improve, but it all quickly goes back downhill as the stakes for the level of disaster continue to grow.
This touring production features a particularly fine cast of comic actors who are also gifted in the extreme as physical performers. Colorado’s own Jamie Ann Romero — the aforementioned knocked-unconscious actress — is a standout as Sandra, whose fiancé is murdered in the “real” play. This sets in motion the plot of the show being attempted by The Cornley University Drama Society, although director Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith) — who also plays the inspector — has warned us in his pre-show intro that the Society has had a few missteps before.
There was the time they couldn’t get enough actors for their production of “Cat,” not to mention their truncated Chekhov production of “The Two Sisters.” This one, he assures the audience, will be the finest production yet.
We have a butler, of course, and Perkins is played by “Dennis Tyde,” (a fantastic Scott Cote whose weaknesses include trouble pronouncing certain words). There’s the manly man, Robert (Peyton Crim), possessed with not a lick of sense but a low baritone that commands the space whenever he opens his mouth. (And no matter how authoritatively he yells “Line!” as if still in rehearsal, it never comes.) Human rubberband Evan Alexander Smith as Chris enjoys mugging and leaping while also reveling in the mayhem all about — so long as it gets the audience going.
Ned Noyes, who plays the director as well as inspector Max, is the straight man at all times, forever hopeful that his production will end well despite, as he admits, a few issues in the first act. Yaegel T. Welch has an extraordinarily busy — although mostly silent — role as the deceased would-be groom Jonathan. As the cast finds out early on, getting a limp body off the stage isn’t as easy as it might look.
Stage manager Annie (Angela Grovey) and lighting tech and Duran Duran aficionado Trevor (Brandon J. Ellis) find themselves on stage more than they’re off, acquainting themselves with reading from scripts as various other characters go by the wayside.
Astute readers might have noticed I mentioned nine characters and have only identified eight. The ninth is the set itself, a work of stage art rarely equaled, with its many flaws suggesting a malevolence that seems to attack the actors with more intent than the murderer at the manor. Just when one thinks there’s nothing left to fall or break, the set delivers another hit — literally and figuratively.
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields as part of their Mischief Theatre Company that creates similarly silly productions, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is a wild, fun night of theater that’s suitable for kids as well (so long as parents don’t think the sight of Romero’s panties will stunt their growth).