By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields; Directed by Matt DiCarlo
Off Broadway, Play (Transfer)
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 3.7.19
L-R: Bartley Booz, Brent Bateman, Matt Walker, Bianca Horn, Maggie Weston, Damien Brett, Ryan Vincent Anderson,
Chris Lanceley, Ashley Reyes and Matt Harringon in The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
BOTTOM LINE: This physical farce—about a very unfortunate production of a murder mystery play—will no doubt be making audiences laugh for years to come in its new Off Broadway home.
The tongue-in-cheek humor is there from the beginning, starting with bios of the “cast” of The Murder at Haversham Manor, the 1920s murder mystery play-within-a-play that is the "title character" of The Play That Goes Wrong. There’s also the letter from Chris Bean (Matt Harrington), President of the Cornley University Drama Society, a company best known for their budget-constrained productions such as James, Where’s Your Peach? Director Bean is clearly a Renaissance man, also serving as costume designer, prop maker, voice coach and choreographer, just to name a few.
Things are off the rails even before The Murder at Haversham Manor gets underway, with two stage hands, Trevor (Ryan Vincent Anderson) and Annie (Bianca Horn), scrambling to get a shelf up, even recruiting a guy from the audience to assist. As the show opens, the supposedly dead Charles Haversham (Chris Lanceley) can’t seem to stay dead, moving his outstretched hand out of the way after someone steps on it. As the mishap-filled murder mystery continues, props go missing, and soon that shelf falls, so Annie is recruited to "sub in" for it. Robert (Brent Bateman), aka Thomas Colleymoore, best friend of Charles, rolls with the punches, plowing through scenes when he must use a vase as a notepad and deftly answering a phone call while trying to hold things in place.
There’s also Max (Matt Walker), clearly both a first-time actor—he hams it up as Charles’s brother Cyril—and also gay—he's put off by the simple prospect of kissing Sandra (Ashley Reyes), who plays Charles's fiancee, with whom Cyril has been having an affair. Also making his stage debut as Perkins the butler is Dennis (Bartley Booz), who has to write certain words like “façade” on his hand, only to then mispronounce them. As the mishaps increase rapidly, Dennis does not just roll with it; he looks on the verge of having a heart attack mid-show. Failing to hold it all together is Bean, who also portrays the Inspector investigating the murder.
In a normal period piece, you might notice the sets for how they recreate an era or give a sense of the characters. Guided by director Matt DiCarlo, set designer Nigel Cook, who won a Tony for his work, masterfully executes a set falling apart around the cast, adding to the hilarity happening on stage. Backed by lighting designer Jeremy Cunningham and sound designer Beth Lake, the show becomes funnier as light bulbs shoot sparks and elevators shudder.
The cast members are all flawless physical comedians, but several standouts are Bateman, possessed of a fantastic basso profundo (his second attempt at answering a phone call is even more brilliant); Booz, whose building apoplexy is as fun to watch as his pronunciations of “façade” and “morose”; and Walker, who plays guileless goofiness perfectly.
I saw The Play That Goes Wrong on Broadway last year and found it a funny, well-polished physical farce with a talented cast doing a play within a play. I think the play might actually be better served in this smaller space, where theatergoers get a closer view of the epic fails as the play literally brings down the house.
(The Play That Goes Wrong plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Mondays at 7; Wednesdays at 7; Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $75 - $95 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. For more information visit broadwaygoeswrong.com.)
The Play That Goes Wrong is by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields. Directed by Matt DiCarlo. Set Design by Nigel Hook. Lighting Design by Jeremy Cunningham. Sound Design by Beth Lake. Costume Design by Roberto Surace. Stage Manager is Whitney M. Keeter.
The cast is Ryan Vincent Anderson, Brent Bateman, Bartley Booz, Matt Harrington, Bianca Horn, Chris Lanceley, Ashley Reyes, and Matt Walker. The cast also features Damien Brett, Adam Daveline, Simone Policano, and Maggie Weston.