Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The premise for the show is that we are the audience about to see the latest production from the Cornley University Drama Society, a creaky British whodunit entitled The Murder at Haversham Manor. With a cast of amateurs, including an actor who can't remember how to pronounce words in the script, and stage hands who are lazy and constantly forget their cues, the third-rate theatre company has its share of challenges. And that's even before props are misplaced and the set starts falling apart around them as the play is going on.
The show, which won the 2015 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and a Tony for its set design, definitely has more mayhem than Noises Off, though it lacks any character development for the fictional actors in The Play That Goes Wrong. That's one element that Frayn fleshed out very well in his play, adding to the effectiveness of its onstage humor and the interactions of those fictional actors. Also, the plot of the play within a play in The Play That Goes Wrong gets mostly lost once the insanity begins.
Matt DiCarlo, recreating Mark Bell's original Broadway direction, keeps the pace fast and the action frenzied. This is a production where the insanity just keeps escalating, and the level of humor increases. DiCarlo and his cast do an exceptional job ensuring every moment resonates with each actor, set piece, prop, and music and lighting cue meticulously timed to get big laughs. However, there are some comic bits where the timing could be a bit tighter to get more than a chuckle and a few repetitive scenes that could be cut so the piece doesn't meander. This is most notable in the last 10 minutes, which are a bit broad and unfocused.
Although I have a few quibbles with the play's setup and wish it were just a bit tighter in a few spots, there is much to love. Some of the funnier moments happen when the director of the fictional play (Evan Alexander Smith) pleads with the audience to stop laughing, as the play is supposed to be a drama, and when the two stage managers (Brandon J. Ellis and Angela Grovey) get pulled, unwillingly, into the play. Scott Cote is hilarious as the actor who can't remember certain words in his dialogue so he writes them down on his hands, yet still mispronounces them, and Ned Noyes, who was an understudy and replacement in the original Broadway cast of the show, is hilarious as the scenery-chewing Max who also relishes being in the fictional play and finds himself constantly clapping along and jumping for joy.
Peyton Crim and Smith display their superb comic skills along with much athleticism when they find themselves up against almost impossible odds as a certain piece of the set falls apart. Jamie Ann Romero portrays the fictional actress in the play who gets knocked out; her rag doll-like physical comedy abilities during that sequence are exceptional. Romero and Grovey also end up both playing the same role at the same time with humorous outcomes, and Yaegel T. Welch is good as the actor playing the murdered victim in the fictional piece who has a problem staying dead.
As good as the cast is, Nigel Hook's Tony Award winning set is really the star of the production. As prop pieces fall off the walls, doors and an elevator get stuck, and walls fall down, it is the essence of catastrophe. The fact that the mechanics of the set falling apart get so many laughs proves Hook's Tony win was well deserved and that the technicians behind The Play That Goes Wrong are as exceptional and as meticulous in their timing as the actors on stage.
One last note: make sure to not wait too long before taking your seat before the show starts, as there are some fun pre-show happenings as the stage is prepared, and one audience member is brought up onstage to help. Also, the program has a fun fake program for the fictional play that makes for a humorous read before the show.
The Play That Goes Wrong, through March 24, 2019, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit broadwaygoeswrong.com.
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields