Murphy’s Law is often expressed in two versions: “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong” or “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Usually, this cynical comic law is invoked—no matter how it’s phrased—only in unfortunate circumstances.
But there’s a wonderful exception: The Play That Goes Wrong, the long-running British import that’s just traveled from Broadway to off-Broadway’s New World Stages and looks to have settled in for a continuation of the deserved run. In this Henry Lewis-Jonathan Sayer-Henry Shields comedy where everything that can go wrong absolutely does, the result is one of the most laugh-filled works that has ever jollied a stage.
The set-up is that the Cornley University Drama Society is presenting The Murder at Haversham Manor, a British mystery in the time-honored Agatha Christie tradition. (The Cornley members are hoping it’ll go better than Cats, where the sadly small cast required altering the tuner’s title to Cat.) The plot involves the murder of Charles Haversham (Chris Lanceley). He is supposedly done away with in the drawing room. (Nigel Hook’s representation of the setting is perfect and perfectly readied for multiple problematic occurrences).
[Read Steven Suskin’s ★★★★ review here.]
When Inspector Carter (Matt Harrington) arrives to get to the bottom of things, everyone in the household is a suspect—Charles’ brother, Cecil (Matt Walker); Charles’ fiancée, Florence Colleymoore (Ashley Reyes); Florence’s brother, Thomas (Brent Bateman); and the butler, Perkins (Bartley Booz). Also constantly on hand in presenting the thriller, supposedly written by one Susie H. K. Brideswell, are stagehands Trevor (Ryan Vincent Anderson) and Annie (Bianca Horn).
Detailing the action in the mystery is beside the point, really. It’s the everything-that-can-and-will-go-wrong action that’s the focal hilarity. It begins even before playwright Brideswell’s play grabs the non-stop attention. In those harried moments, Trevor and Annie (and a conscripted audience member) are attempting to get a door to remain shut and a mantelpiece to adhere to a wall.
Itemizing everything else during the two acts of raucous proceedings that comes unhinged, explodes, collapses, misfires, trips, topples, is knocked unconscious, is stepped on, is slapped, is punched in the nose, is dropped from a height, et cetera et cetera, et cetera, would take several review columns and would tread heavily on the enormous fun that Lewis, Sayer, and Shields are having.
Better to use space to congratulate the original Broadway director Mark Bell and transfer director Matt DiCarlo and the troupe of actors who are not simply good; they’re gallant to the point where they should be getting hazard pay. Are they? After all, they’ve not only taken on roles, it looks as if they’re taking their lives in their hands eight times a week.
Anderson, Bateman, Booz, Harrington, Horn, Lanceley, Reyes, and Walker are an expert ensemble and can’t be said to include a first among equals. Reyes, Horn, and even Anderson get to play self-regarding ingenue Florence when one or the other is indisposed. Harrington is the upright and determined inspector to a T as well as appearing as the Cornley production’s director. Bateman’s Thomas in his knickers (Roberto Surace, the costumer), is staunch throughout and despite all odds. Booz with hair partially and obviously greying makes for a persistent Perkins, Lanceley’s portrayal of the Haversham corpse is full of its own surprises. Walker’s Cecil (he’s also the manor’s aging gardener) takes great joy in the Cornley actor’s thrill at simply being on stage.
Special mention goes to Andrew Johnson’s original sound design and to Rob Falconer’s original music, which is everything the music to a thriller—whether it goes right or wrong—should be.
Certainly, there’s more that can be said about The Play That Goes Wrong, but why take time saying it? Better to encourage all potential ticket buyers to do so right now. That pertains to patrons who have already attended. This reviewer has now seen the farrago three times and has guffawed every time, maybe even more so this time around.
The Play That Goes Wrong opened February 20, 2019, at New World Stages. Tickets and information: broadwaygoeswrong.com