…and yes, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I had a good feeling about The Play That Goes Wrong, now open at the Lyceum Theatre, since it's Broadway announcement became a real thing, having heard about it’s award-winning run on the West End not too long ago. Of the many givens of the world, we know this: the Brits know and execute their comedy with flair, no matter how silly or slapstick it is. Also, producer Kevin McCollum - who’s IBDB profile contains a what’s what of fantastic and unconventional faire - tends to conjure up productions akin to my aesthetic and sense of humor, Something Rotten! and Hand to God most notably.
On the night I saw the show, with my girl squad coming together with a delish dinner at the Melt Shop just beforehand, I wanted this show to dazzle us so so so badly to keep the good times rolling. I mean, my BFF made the trek out from the foreign country of Long Island! It’s a Saturday night on Broadway! We’re in the first two rows of the orchestra! I’m about ready to burst from all the carbs and dairy I consumed from my Grilled Cheese/Tater Tots/Oreo Milkshake dinner!
The Play That Goes Wrong? You had one job - just don’t fuck it up and send us all on home happy and smiling. Your move...
And oh, they most certainly DID NOT fuck it up...that shit was hilarious from the get-go.
As the show within the show is introduced, a murder mystery whodunit, I was already sold as the director pointed out how a short-handed cast and/or limited budget reflected in their previous productions - a revival of Anton Chekov’s Two Sisters (LOL!) and James? Where’s Your Peach? (LOLOLOL). And when the curtain rises, the two-hour long hodgepodge of debauchery begins and all I could do was sit down, enjoy the ride and laugh until my face and body and everything started to hurt.
The Play That Goes Wrong can best be described as the love child of Noises Off and One Man, Two Guvners. The set pieces fall apart about 10,568 times over. The dead body ain’t really all that dead as he flinches every time his cohorts step or fall on him...or when he has to worm-style crawl his ass off-stage. Characters fall down and get hit in the face with doors and floorboards, some to the point of unconsciousness. The actors - when they are not breaking character and getting fed up themselves - repeat dialogue when cues and character entrances are missed and make do with or without the right props. And that’s only a fraction of it. No, really.
It’s all bonkers- I’m sorry, “bollicks"…and it doesn’t let up for two hours (including the intermission as some of the actors continue to engage the audience). It also happens to be well-executed, so much so, monotony and cliches are never given the chance to settle in. Sure, the plot is non-existent and the only way the story could progress is BIGGER and BETTER and CRAZIER and MORE HIJINX, EVEN MORE HIJINX, ALLLLLLL THE HIJINX...
But no fucks are genuinely given while you are laughing at this game ensemble perform with an amazing amount of synchronicity. And Mark Bell’s direction is so fantastic with so much to take in visually at times, I actually froze my laughter to process how one can craft a show like this without setting the building on fire or someone getting injured or killed in the cross-fire.
To single out any member of this ensemble would be quite a task, but upon a second and third (and fourth and fifth and six) bout of reminiscing, it is Dave Hearn who truly knocked it out of the park. Watching him in-character and over-acting with aggressive, rapid-fire movements and hand-motions was funny enough as it is, but Hearn’s character also broke the fourth wall constantly to eat up the audience’s laughter and applause and to pat himself on the back in not-so-subtle fashion. The brilliance of it all is that the audience found an unlikely stand-in for themselves on stage (i.e someone willing to laugh and smile along with). But the best (I’d even say, most important) part of Hearn’s portrayal is that he doesn’t devolve completely into self-aware parody - I still got the impression that he was just an ill-equipped actor who couldn’t help himself from basking in the glow. And let’s be honest, wouldn’t you?
The last inhabitant at the Lyceum was the not-that-funny IMO, Oh, Hello. For me, The Play that Goes Wrong lands as a response to that experience by, y’know, being a self-proclaimed comedy that I actually laughed at. If you are looking for a show that activates more parts of your brain, mosey right down the block and laugh (and cry a little bit, fair warning) at Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other because you are worth it and you’re welcome. But on a night where I was enjoying the company of my girlfriends, eating comfort food with no concerns as to my waistline and making #SquadGoals a thing, The Play That Goes Wrong was exactly what the occasion ordered and a nice change of pace considering all of the fantastic, but seriously serious, doom-and-gloom Broadway typically offers up.
Just an observation, mind you, but still...
Photo Credit: Richard Termine/The NY Times