By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
It’s taken a minute, but the only play to ever win both an Olivier Award in London and a Tony Award on Broadway has finally arrived in The City That Care Forgot. The Play That Goes Wrong, currently on the boards at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, is a supremely funny and quite silly farce written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.
Last year at this time, Dave Solomon served at the director for the national tour of Tootsie: The Musical that played at the Saenger Theater. With Solomon signed on as director of this zany comedy with all of its many moving parts and clever conceits, New Orleans audiences get to see for themselves why this work won equal praise on both sides of the pond.
The play within a play concept has been famously used before in another highly regarded British romp Noises Off, which has played here on several occasions. The concept of The Play That Goes Wrong is similar and regards the Cornley Drama Society’s presentation of The Murder at Haversham Manor.
Leading the cast of characters is Lynx Murphy, who assumes the roles of Christopher Rosewater, the director of the murder mystery as well as the company player for the character of Inspector Carter. Murphy is perfectly cast as he first informs the audience they are endeavoring to put on their play with a very reduced staff and limited resources. Such hard times have hit the company before as when they were forced to put on the great Chekhov work The Two Sisters and the musical Cat. Would there were a rimshot within ear!
The hilarity of The Play That Goes Wrong is that the Cornley Drama Society players continue to perform the play no matter what absurdities occur and no matter how preposterous the circumstances. They make do with what they have and what they haven’t to very humorous results.
Matt Reed plays Robert McGillicuddy-Smythe, the actor playing the role of Thomas Colleymore in The Murder at Haversham Manor. A wonderful comic foil to Murphy and Yvette Bourgeois, who plays his sister Florence Colleymore (at least initially), his lanky frame and booming voice elevate his performance. Reed’s spit takes are the stuff of legend.
Dominic Giardina plays Jonathan St. James, the company’s actor who plays murder victim Charles Haversham. As Haversham, St. James is only required to play dead, which should be an easy task. But, given the actions of the other actors who manage to inadvertently do about everything conceivable to the corpse, he is unable to stay stationary as the script demands.
Benjamin Dougherty is also delightful as Maxwell Humphries, the actor taking on the role of Cecil Haversham and who is able to break the fabled fourth wall as often as his ego will allow. There is a gleam in his eyes as he realizes the audience will respond to his words and actions. This causes him to overact in several scenes throughout the presentation. He also portrays the groundskeeper Arthur later in the murder mystery.
Another hilarious member of the cast playing in the murder mystery as the butler Perkins and Cornley cast member Dennis Smith is Noah Hazzard. When not busy pouring drinks of questionable origin and contents, Hazard’s character is used in a number of comedic instances involving telephones and a missing fireplace mantle.
Sora plays Trevor “Queen Trey” Tsai, the lighting and sound operator, while Cat Wilkinson portrays Annie, who is supposed to be the stage manager for the play. It isn’t long before they, too, are dragged into the performance due to several accidents that incapacitate others in the cast.
Eventually, the entire set becomes an unintended member of the cast as it literally begins to fall apart leading to hilarious scenes in which cast members must attempt to counteract the forces of gravity and physics. Ann Beyersdorfer needs to be credited for her design work for the set.
Kaci Thomasie does an incredible job providing costumes with assistance from Birdget Boyle. Zach Pizza also handles lighting designs with finesse, while Joel Derby and Tony Mita serve to choreograph the many fights incorporated into the work. Brendan Connelly returns to Le Petit to shepherd the sound design duties on this production.
The Play That Goes Wrong hits all the marks for a very funny night in a theater. After the last two years of shutdowns, lockdowns and little in-person entertainment, this is the right prescription for what audiences truly need.
The Play That Goes Wrong continues its run at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter Street in New Orleans, from now through November 6. For tickets click here or call 504-522-2081.