Wrong Proves Sometimes To Be Sort of Right.

By Patrick Hurley

Somewhere between a Vegas show and a Theme park experience sits The Play That Goes Wrong, a Mischief Theatre Production- playing now at the Ahmanson theatre.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

From the moment you enter the theater, the production comes at you full force. Actors are wandering looking for a lost dog, and stage hands are hurriedly tending to faulty set pieces all in preparation for the performance that is about to begin.  The performance is a typical British whodunnit, The Murder at Haversham Manor, which is being presented by The Cornley University Drama Society. Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith) who is billed as the Inspector, the Director, the Designer, Prop Maker and about fifteen other credits, monologues about the performance we are about to see, and away we go.

The play, which is immaterial, serves as a device for calamity. Which is to say, everything that can go wrong, does- No, the title is not meant to divulge thematic developments. This is slapstick- in the truest sense of the word, for you cannot even count on two hands the number of times the audience howled with laughter when someone was physically hit with or by something. There are more pratfalls than a Three Stooges short, and enough scenery chewing to be genuinely shocked there is any of it left by the time it all starts collapsing around the actors.

To analyze this play with any sort of logical criticism about narrative would be a fool’s errand. The main purpose of the show seems to be to make us laugh and shock us. It also plays into the given circumstances of anyone who has participated in community theater. From the inability to handle when something goes awry, wherein untrained actors just stare and wait for the glitch to stop happening, to the quite funny gesticulating that Ned Noyes’ Max routinely goes through in order to remember his lines. So in order to discuss the piece, one should be prepared to discuss the physicality and whether or not it’s earned. And the answer, unfortunately for this piece is a huge, resounding sometimes.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

For starters, anyone can get a laugh for a laugh’s sake, and while some of the laughter is justified, a great deal of it is just not.  Shocking an audience to a laugh is fine once, twice, even five times. This has a shock-worthy laugh every minute or so.  Fine, we can understand the joy of being in the audience and just waiting to see what inexplicably awful thing could next befall our players. But what of the stakes? Just because it is a performance doesn’t mean we have to care that this is going wrong. So why do we? In this case, things go so unbelievably wrong that we can empathize, especially if we’ve ever been a performer. And so the only amount of stakes are the universal- it’s hard to be an actor- ones. Not enough. The amount of repetition in this play is actually quite staggering. How many times can a door be flung open and hit someone in the face? Or something fall off the wall? Or a stagehand accidentally be seen through a window, or a door? Or an actor break character and give a smile to the audience? Answer: Many, many times. A place where repetition served the play well was when Dennis (Scott Cote) couldn’t remember his correct cue line, and all the other actors were forced to keep repeating the same scene until he remembered.

It seems the play wants to pick up where Noises Off! stopped. That is to say, it wants to be bigger, louder, more of a disaster. But it doesn’t come close to earning it. By the time the over-two-hour running time slogs its way toward a conclusion we are fatigued. The jokes wear thin, the falls stop being funny, and the story proves to be the missing ingredient.

This is not to say that the show is not entertaining, it absolutely is. The entire cast is impressive. There are almost as many physical feats as you would find in a Cirque show. And director Matt DiCarlo does a beautiful job of crafting the kind of chaotic choreography that seems impossible to be rehearsed. It’s so bad, it’s almost ingenious. Unfortunately it’s a hit and miss show that goes on way too long. But still, it’s the kind of show you should have a few drinks with, or before, and enjoy the escape it provides.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opens Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m. Through August 11, 2019

Ahmanson Theatre

Run Time and Intermission: 2 hours, 5 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Ticket Prices: $30 – $135 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)

Tickets are available Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org  

By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400

Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre At The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012

Author: Patrick Hurley

Graduated UCLA with his MFA in Playwriting. Is an educator and writer Constantly in search of meaning...

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