Of all the myriad life lessons that can be found within the likes of “Dumb and Dumberer,” one shines above all others. Never underestimate the power of slapstick. If one clonk on the head makes people laugh, clonks enough to engage a team of concussion specialists are uproarious. If one spit-take is funny, spit enough to hydrate an entire cross-country team will set people to rolling in the aisles. Such shenanigans, timed with the precision of a Swiss watch, are the lifeblood of “The Play that Goes Wrong.”
‘The Play That Goes Wrong’
When: Through Dec, 16
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
Tickets: $25 – $98
The title tells you precisely what you’ll get in Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ frantic comedy. In this play about a play in which everything goes wrong, the wrong things include but are not limited to: A gun misfiring, the set caving in, lights exploding, cast members clobbering each other, cast members passing out, cast members forgetting their lines, cast members repeating entire scenes and cast members confusing Meisner technique with charades and Isadora Duncanesque full-body gesticulations. Duran Duran plays an unfortunate role in the sound design. There is a missing dog named Winston.
The wrongness takes place under the auspices of the Cornley University Drama Society and its production of “Murder at Haversham Manor.” To be clear: “Haversham Manor” is the show that unfolds in the show that is “The Play That Goes Wrong.” If that sounds confusing, rest assured it also doesn’t matter. The murder mystery folded into “The Play That Goes Wrong” is as a brick of aged cheddar is to a left-handed porcupine — ridiculously beside the point. The point is how director Matt DiCarlo (based on the original Broadway direction by Mark Bell) gets his eight-person ensemble to deploy their extraordinary comedic skills.
Those skills are essential, as there are few things more excruciating than badly done comedy, especially if it’s broad— and this is as broad as comedy gets.
“Haversham” is the kind of show where a befuddled detective makes great show of searching for an incriminating ledger — which is right under his nose, getting ever showier until someone (or many people) in the audience screams out “It’s under the chair!” It is the kind of show where the detective responds to that response with “You are a terrible audience! You would never behave like this at the Goodman!”
There’s both virtuosic timing and physicality on display here, particularly when the second floor of the set starts self-destructing and those balanced upon it are called on to display the balance of a Romanian gymnast circa 1976. Beyond balance, it takes great skill to play an extremely bad actor, especially a bad actor who won’t send the audience screaming for the exits. DiCarlo’s ensemble (Jamie Ann Romero, Angela Grovey, Peyton Crim, Scott Cote, Ned Noyes, Brandon J. Ellis, Evan Alexander Smith and Yaegel T. Welch) is wonderfully awful.
If subtlety and nuance is your thing, this is not your play. “The Play That Goes Wrong” makes the “Three Stooges” look positively Stoppardian. It is to drama as “Rio” is to rock snobs: Apt to induce outraged pearl clutching at the sheer stupidity and bombast of the thing.
For those who appreciate an impeccably timed pratfall and guffaw when words like “facade” are mispronounced (try it with a hard “c”), it’s tough to beat “The Play that Goes Wrong.” Spoiler alert: Nobody cares whodunnit.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.