'The Play That Goes Wrong' review: Non-stop mischief and hilarity in breezy Croswell production
Scott Leake as Charles Haversham lies dead while Maxwell Lam as his best friend Thomas, Jared Hoffert as the police inspector, and Chris Sancho as Haversham’s butler look at his body in a scene from “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Croswell Opera House.
The show might be called “The Play That Goes Wrong,” but everything went right during The Croswell’s uproarious opening performance that had folks, including myself, falling out of their chairs from laughter. One of the more spirited productions to hit the stage as of late, “The Play That Goes Wrong” follows the scrappy Cornley Drama Society (known for such bangers as “Jersey Boy,” “Cat” and “James and the Peach”) trying to put on a performance of the campy mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor” when everything descends into absolute chaos.
It’s an immersive presentation meant to spoof local community theaters like The Croswell while also doubling as an actor’s worst nightmare. Imagine going on stage to give your big speech and suddenly a door flings off its hinges, or a piece of scenery almost decapitates you. How about your lead actress passing out after getting walloped on the head and you're forced to bring on the nearby stage manager, who has zero stage experience, to fill the void. And that’s only a fraction of the madness this ensemble faces throughout the show, which sees them enduring gauntlets of physical whirlwinds that would make Larry, Curly, and Mo blush.
From a performer standpoint, the general rule is: “less is more,” but in a show akin to “The Play That Goes Wrong,” nothing is off limits. Playwrights Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields have created a wonderful playground where the actors can experiment with various performance styles and under the direction of Meghan C. Hakes, the vision is more than realized. You can also sense a real camaraderie among this crew, a key ingredient to any theater who puts this complex show together, which not only fosters a memorable evening, but keeps the laughs flowing. It’s hard to remember a recent production that elicited that type of non-stop laughter from the curtain speech until the final bows. It was kinda remarkable.
A-lot of that goodwill falls on the cast and their abilities to roll with the punches (literally and figuratively) and remain in lockstep with the immense practical effects going on behind the scenes. Interestingly, some performers have dual roles: like Jared Hoffert who, in addition to playing Inspector Carer in “Haversham Manor,” also doubles as Chris, the passionate creative director of the Cornley Drama Society. Likewise Scott Leake played both residential artist Jonathan and the deceased Charles Haversham at the center of “Haversham Manor.” It’s a fascinating concept where some, including scene stealers Chris Stack and Maxwell Lam as Cornley staples Max and Robert, have to not only assume motivations for their “characters” in “Haversham Manor,” but we as the audience need to see how Max and Robert might approach the play-within-the-play. The results are gut busting.
I promise it’s not that hard to differentiate them and the play moves so briskly, you probably won’t have much time to dwell on it, what matters is “Haversham Manor'' completely derails from the opening moments (set pieces go missing, elevators break, and scenery collapses) and it's up to this rag-tag band to try and piece it back together. After all, the show must go on.
Rounding out the wonderful cast is Megan Clark, playing the in-over-her-head stage manager Annie; Kylie Bushman as Trevor, the lighting and sound board operator with an unhealthy Baymax (from “Big Hero 6”) and Duran Duran obsession; Chris Sancho is having a ball as Denise, or, better known as Perkins, the Butler in “Haversham Manor;” and finally Croswell newcomer Kori Bielaniec goes full tilt in a memorable performance playing Sandra aka Florence Colleymoore in “Haversham Manor.”
Everyone is a riot and the comedic prowess displayed through the evening, especially as the cast dealt with everything from falling objects, spontaneous fencing matches, and props that spewed liquids, is sensational. They make slapstick look easy. Elsewhere, scenic designer Bartley H. Bauer hilariously replicates how a Cornley set might look (though he manages to sneak in a few trap doors and remote devices that allows things to go wrong when needed); costumes by Alexandria Szczotka are perfectly fitted to match the period “Haversham Manor” is set while giving the Cornley stage crew a contemporary look (Bushman, for example, rocks out a Duran Duran graphic T-shirt alongside Clark’s sporty overalls). Lighting and sound are another key element that must go “right” in order for the show’s elaborate pranks to reach their full potential and Rachel and Crosby Slupe and Christopher Goosman meet the moment.
From a pure technical standpoint, “The Play That Goes Wrong” isn’t your normal straight play any theater can mount. Aside from having the usual bells and whistles of a massive production, you also need fight captains (Hoffert - pulling double duties), intimacy coordinators (shout-out Jen Pan), and a properties designer (John MacNaughton) who plans on not sleeping for the foreseeable future. The Croswell has that in strides and they also lucked out by having an efficient “Cornley Crew” of rockstars, including stage manager Tom Hodgman, and fellow cohorts Madeline Bough, Aiden Ketola, Ryann Newsom, Alex and Sage Pizaña, who keep the play thriving.
In other words, the herculean efforts by the entire Croswell cast and crew paid off.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG continues through May 21st. Tickets can be purchased at Croswell.org or by calling 517-263-6868.