In This Los Angeles and New York Play, the Laughter Never Stops
If you want to laugh, I have the answer for you: see The Play That Goes Wrong, now running at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre through August 11, and also off-Broadway at New York’s New World Stages.
We are living in divisive times, when political tension and turmoil are everywhere. At periods like this, laughter is more essential than ever. And as far as pure comedy goes, you can’t do better than The Play That Goes Wrong.
The show — a classic British farce — spoofs a collegiate production of a mystery thriller, titled The Murder at Haversham Manor. This “show within a show” is performed by a horrific, though well-intentioned, group of amateurs — and, as the title indicates, literally everything goes wrong.
The play begins with two stagehands who are having trouble getting the set ready, and from there, the laughs — and the hijinks — never stop. The script is very funny, and the physical comedy is truly breathtaking. Besides a production of the play One Man, Two Guvnors, I’ve never witnessed better physical comedy in my years of theatregoing.
I don’t tend to exaggerate, but I was either laughing or had a smile on my face for most of the two-hour run-time. The cast is uniformly strong, but the two stand-out performers are Evan Alexander Smith — playing the show’s director Chris (who also acts, designed the costumes, the set, and everything else you could imagine), and Ned Noyes, playing the lovable Max.
Smith is strong, but Noyes is truly magical. He is so endearing and lovable that I couldn’t wait until he was onstage again. He wrings so much out of every little moment, without it ever feeling forced or pushed. My eyes lit up anytime he was on stage, and I sensed the same for many in the audience.
The direction by Mark Bell is crisp, sharp and funny — and the timing is perfect. You might not expect this of a comedy, but the play is truly dangerous for the actors. The physical comedy — if even slightly mistimed — could lead to serious injury, which guarantees that the cast will always be sharp, and that the audience will always see a spontaneous, present performance. No actor would — or could — hold back in this production.
Without giving anything away, perhaps the true star of the evening is the set design by Nigel Hook. You’ll leave the theatre wondering how they achieved the incredible effects, and amazed by the scope of the talent involved both on- and off-stage.
My only quibble is that sometimes a few of the jokes and gags go on too long, even after the humor has been wrung out of them. I think ten minutes could have been shaved off the play to make it a truly magical night of theatre. But it comes pretty close anyway.
While this review covers the Los Angeles production, that production is a tour of the original Broadway show. While that production closed, the show is now playing off-Broadway at New World Stages, and I have no doubt that New York audiences will enjoy it as much as I did in Los Angeles.
Despite its title, The Play That Goes Wrong does almost everything right.