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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Play That Goes Wrong

You thought you had tickets to Hamilton.— Chris Bean, Director of the play within The Play That Goes Wrong
Brandon J. Ellis (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
For a show, the kind that takes place in a theater, as opposed to, say, the White House or Congress, that deserves the label "farce," Washington audiences need look no further than the Kennedy Center where The Play That Goes Wrong is knockin' 'em dead.

The premise of the multi- Olivier and Tony award winner is that an amateur theater society, the Cornley University Drama Society (surely the "corn" is intended) is putting on, "The Murder at Haversham Manor." The 1920's style whodunit, more Agatha Christie than Monty Python, has all the elements of the genre — a corpse, a clueless "debutante's delight" of a fiance, his intended bride who is prone to "episodes," her brother, an inspector, a servant and a gardener. Stagehands too play important roles in trying to gloss over the errors the players make on stage.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn, is the gold standard by which all backstage farces are judged as is the actor/now tv star James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors, the best knockabout performance of the genre. The Play That Goes Wrong reaches neither of those heights in wit or plot but it is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, well done and well received. Audiences are laughing very happily.

The month-long run at the Kennedy Center, where the 17-city tour is beginning, demonstrates that the comfort of the familiar is clearly at work. In the world of commercial theater, a play/musical that is branded, i.e. that has the imprimatur of having succeeded in London's West End and New York's Broadway, whose word of mouth precedes a run, sells well or sells out and that is certainly the case at the Kennedy Center.

The production is polished although it could run a bit faster. Farce works best when delivered at top speed. The set is tacky on purpose and clever in the way that the set of An Inspector Calls is clever. It self-destructs. The props are never in the right place at the right time. And sometimes that is also true of the actors. Doors don't open when they are supposed to open then open when they are supposed to remain shut, etc. Such elements of farce are as predictable as missed cues, malapropisms, overacting, falls and a corpse that's not really dead. But that's all part of the fun. The audience buys it.

All the actors perform their parts well. But Ned Noyes as Max Bennett as Cecil Haversham, a type that in my youth was characterized as a "gormless wonder," seems to be having so much fun he cannot contain his enjoyment. He's a pleasure to watch. Brandon J. Ellis as Trevor, the lighting and sound director has the look and attitude of a Roadie, with a penchant for rockers Duran Duran. Peyton Crim's voice, a magnificent basso profundo, (he refers to himself on Facebook as "a human subwoofer") lends resonance to every line he utters. His timing when calling for help with lines he has forgotten is priceless.

When all is said and done, one hopes that backstage there is a large vial of Tylenol to ease the pains these actors' bodies must endure after so many spins and turns and pratfalls, or better than that a gallon of Scotch. They've earned it.

Editor' Note: The Broadway production, the longest ever run at the Lyceum Theater, will continue its life in New York at the Off-Broadway multi-plex, New World Station.

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The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Directed by Matt DiCarlo
Scenic Design by Nigel Hook
Costume Design by Roberto Surace
Lighting Design by Ric Mountjoy

Cast: Scott Cote (Dennis); Peyton Crim (Robert); Brandon J. Ellis (Trevor); Angela Grovey (Annie); Ned Noyes (Max); Jamie Ann Romero (Sandra); Evan Alexander Smith (Chris); Yaegel Welch (Jonathan).

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission. Kennedy Center; December 18 through January 6, 2019; reviewed by Susan Davidson on December 20, 2018.

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