Oh, so ‘… Wrong,’ but oh so, right

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Most comedies will have laughs. After all, that’s the nature of a comedy.

Some comedies will have a lot of laughs. Again, if the humor gods bless the audience, that’s a given.

But there aren’t many comedies that offer wall-to-wall laughs.

But, you should place “The Play That Goes Wrong,” which came into The Bushnell in Hartford on Sept. 25, in that rarefied spot of a stage show that tortures you—in a good way– with fits of giggles and guffaws.

The play written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields mines all sort of comic nuggets. There is a ton of pratfalls and physical humor. There is over-exaggeration of every kind. There is a bevy funny characters with clowns and straight men typically working at odds. There is clever word play.

And there is that slippery banana peel of everything that possibly could go wrong going wrong.

The show is a play within a play. The characters are members of much-flawed theater company– The Cornley University Drama Society. (The theater company consistently has trouble finding enough cast members for their productions—hence they had to stage “Cat.” That’s not a typo.) The theater company on this evening is staging a production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”

The humor consistently bombards the audience because the writers of “The Play That Goes Wrong”–Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields– have grabbed comic devices from so many different sources. It keeps the audience from being bored because they really can’t anticipate where the next joke will hit them.

The comedy also works especially well for fans of theater. The context and characters are all too familiar.

If you have attended “bad theater,” you will recognize the cast members prone to overacting; cast members who are easily distracted and thrust themselves beyond the fourth wall; actors who can’t maintain their character; beleaguered stage hands valiantly trying to hold things together; stagehands who are bored and surrendered to inevitable failure; and directors with more pomp than successful circumstances on their resume.

But even if you have never delved into the universe of crappy theater, there is still plenty to laugh at in “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

Straight across the board, the leads this evening—Scott Cote (who plays Perkins), Ned Noyes (who plays Inspector Carter), Peyton Crim (who plays Thomas Colleymore), Sid Solomon (who plays Cecil Haversham), Jamie Ann Romero (who plays Florence Colleymore), Brandon J. Ellis (who plays Trevor), and Angela Grovey (who plays Annie)—were superb. I can’t imagine what it’s like playing a character that is playing a character. And to play a character playing a character badly… well, that takes great acting skill.

The direction, which on the touring production is handled by Mark Bell, was brisk– which immensely aided the humor. Holding onto the reins in a manufactured chaotic environment demonstrates great skill.

I went into The Bushnell not knowing what to expect—despite the marketing. Sometimes you’re told something is funny and you’ll leave the theater asking yourself, “What was all the fuss?”

But in the case of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” the funny is there. And if you’re ready for a sore side the next morning from all the laughter, “The Play That Goes Wrong” at The Bushnell is the place to be.

I give “The Play That Goes Wrong” four out of four stars.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” continues on Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Matinees are Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

For tickets, go to www.Bushnell.org

Photo: Jeremy Daniel