Sometimes we go to theatre for a dramatic and literary experience, and sometimes it’s for an uplifting musical full of dance and song. Other times we’re watching dark comedies, where a deeper meaning is broken up with laugh lines.
But sometimes, we just want to see people get bashed in the head while the female lead runs around in bra and panties and mustaches and wigs fall off and shit flies off the walls as the actors run into one another.
That’s what’s on tap at Aurora’s Vintage Theatre, where The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong opened to an enthusiastic audience Friday night. Directed by Steve Wilson, this is a truncated version of the two-act comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, the touring production of which stopped at the Denver Center in 2019.
Spit-takes are table stakes in this show. From left, Rachel Graham, Andrew Uhlenhopp, Evan Marquez, Scotty Shaffer and Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry | Photo: Matthew Gale
The brainchild of London-based Mischief Theatre, this show is one in a series of “Goes Wrong” titles, including a must-watch BBC series The Show That Goes Wrong (streaming on Prime). For this one, the gag is pretty simple: An amateur theatre company doing a murder-mystery has everything possible go wrong — from typical stuff like line drops, errant spotlights and missing props all the way up to falling set pieces, extraordinary wardrobe malfunctions and backstage crew members being pulled into the action to “save” things.
What the show lacks in subtly it more than makes up for in finely choreographed mayhem and a game cast willing to put it all on the line to milk every last laugh out of this deliberate turkey. It’s a treat to see the great Leslie O’Carroll walk the boards at Vintage for the first time as Annie, a hapless and surprisingly pugnacious stagehand who has pitched battles with everything from a persnickety mantle to a stubborn actor whose lines she’s trying to usurp later in the play.
As the play’s stuffed-shirt director who doubles as the inspector, Andrew Uhlenhopp is tremendous as the sort-of straight man who, while he mostly gets all his lines and entrances correct, is foiled at every turn by the chaos induced by the other characters. The king of the take, Uhlenhopp leaves no look unturned as he draws laughs even when he’s got no line.
This season’s award for onstage bravery goes to Rachel Graham as the fiancée of the murder victim (Scotty Shaffer). Not only is she stripped to her undies for half the show, she’s also unceremoniously hauled out a window in an extended, very funny scene that’s the very definition of “compromising position.”
O’Carroll and Shaffer also have scenes where they’re either dead(ish) or unconscious and are rudely handled by the other characters desperately trying to get them where they need to be.
(L-R) Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry, Johanna Jaquith, Andrew Uhlenhopp and Leslie O’Caroll | Photo: Matthew Gale
The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong is nothing if not a testament to actors who’ll stop at nothing to keep the show going as if nothing’s wrong. But at some point, when it’s clear there’s no saving things, the laughs are compounded by their complicity in what’s essentially a farce wrapped in a murder mystery. The jump-the-shark moment may well be a scene where Uhlenhopp is taking notes using a set of keys he scratches on a vase — the result of a runaway series of prop mishaps.
There’s a lot of tricky business to manage here, and Wilson and the cast do a nice job pulling it all together. If there were any glitches, they were subsumed by all the deliberate screwups. I really loved Johanna Jaquith as the dipshit maid Polly, whose acrobatics handcuffed to a daybed fuel numerous great gags later in the show. It’s clear she’s relishing the role as the actor with the least at stake, and she has a great part in another funny bit where one dropped line results in a script-loop that appears inescapable (something most actors have experienced at one point).
All of the cast members have worked to find every bit of funny they can, and no doubt this show will continue to improve throughout the run as they unearth more bits. From the get-go, though, it’s a sharp piece of comedy with a skilled, game and athletic cast willing to go the extra mile to deliver the laughs.
What: ‘The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong’ by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields Where: Aurora Vintage Theatre When: April 15-May 22 Directed by: Steve Wilson Featuring: Scotty Shaffer, Rachel Graham, Johanna Jaquith, Evan Marquez, Andrew Uhlenhopp, Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry, Leslie O’Carroll, Brandon Billings