It’s the actor’s nightmare brought to grand and glorious life when everything that can go wrong does in a murder mystery play produced by a local theatre group. It’s The Play That Goes Wrong and it is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.
I can’t remember the last time that I so looked forward to writing a review. This, unarguably, is the best comedy I have ever seen. The idea of a play going haywire is not an original idea, but the script of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields raises the idea to an art form. Poorly constructed sets, botched dialogue, godawful acting, inept stage management, and a useless crew are just some of the antics you’re going to see in this play about a play. I seldom saw the punchlines coming which allowed me to laugh like a hyena and the antics of the cast prompted numerous ovations throughout the night.
Beth Domann and Marni Erwin bring an incredible pair of hands to the direction of this piece. Farce is never easy and there is a real skill to making a show look bad intentionally, yet still feel natural and spontaneous. These two directors pull it off with flying colors. They plotted some fantastic sight gags, kept the pace fast and furious, and led their actors to the best “bad” performances I’ve yet seen. And their staging. . .well, you’ll have to see it for yourself, but I will say the show starts much, much sooner than you think.
It takes really good actors to come off as really bad actors and this show is crammed with that necessary talent from top to bottom. Some of the gutbusting performances you’re going to see come from Matt Winston as an utterly inept light & sound operator constantly in search for his Duran Duran CD. Sarah McQuiggan is hilarious as the stage manager turned understudy who shows she’s just as talented as the leading lady (trust me, it’s a low bar). Corey Kilburn supplies great pantomime as the corpse of the show.
Jamie Bower gives a howling good performance as Thomas Colleymoore. Bower’s Colleymoore gives a performance so over the top it makes a soap opera seem realistic. He is also a master of physical comedy as he performs virtual gymnastics for some of his sight gags and I never knew a spit take could have so many different variations until watching Bower in action.
Joshua David Smith is every director’s worst nightmare as Perkins, the butler. Perkins is the actor guaranteed to make directors and fellow actors grind their collective teeth. As Perkins, Smith mispronounces words, hardly varies his delivery, and effortlessly loses his place in the script which makes you wonder why he wasn’t run out of town on a rail.
Rachael Arp reaches new highs in lows as the leading lady, Florence Colleymoore. Not only is she a poor performer with her ridiculous histrionics, but she is also a scene stealer par excellence with her constant pirouetting and frozen stances. Arp is pretty impressive in the physical comedic arts as well as she takes a door to the face like few can and her prolonged brawl with McQuiggan’s Annie over who gets to play the leading lady is one of the best bits I’ve seen conjured on stage.
Clayton Avery matches his leading lady step for step with his own lousy chops as Cecil Haversham. His delivery is not only volcanically over the top, but he manages to match that delivery with gestures and movements that are so enormous, a blind man could see them. Avery actually does double duty in a sense as he also plays the gardener, Arthur, but it’s not actually double duty since his character plays both roles exactly the same with only a change of costume to delineate them.
Seth White’s bad acting as Inspector Carter is topped only by his bad directing. To be fair, Carter’s acting is passable since he, at least, knows his lines, but when you realize that he staged and guided this monstrosity, you wish he would stick to acting since he does less damage in that regard. Still, you have to admire his honesty because, in his “real” self of Chris Bean, he is rather open about the deficiencies in his troupe.
Keith Nisbett’s set is quite elegant and comes off as a proper manor with its gigantic window, mantlepieceless fireplace, fine bookcase, and impressive upstairs study. But its functionality is the key to this show as the set becomes a character of its own and, believe me, it’s just as, ahem, “talented” as the cast of the murder mystery play. Kaley Jackson’s costumes are right on the mark as they have the look of the turn of the century with the hunting wear of Colleymoore, the dressing gown of the corpse, and the lovely red dress of the leading lady. Jamie Bower pulls double duty with lighting and sound design and excels on both with ringing telephones, unexpected Duran Duran music, and the red lights for the “dun dun dun” moments.
If you’re looking for a show to forget your troubles for a spell, this is it. You’ll laugh until your sides ache with the best botched performances you’re apt to see. Get a ticket if you still can because I imagine the sellouts are coming quick for this one.
The Play That Goes Wrong runs at Springfield Little Theatre through March 19. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets range from $17-$37. For tickets, visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334. Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.