By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
For the second time in less than six months, The Play That Goes Wrong, the hit West End and Broadway award-winning comedy is on the boards in the Greater New Orleans area. Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the comedy is the only one to win both an Olivier Award as Best Comedy and a Tony Award for Best Play. This time, the folks at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts are having their way with this play within a play, where everything that can get fouled up does and with hilarious results.
In this case, the show directed by Ricky Graham pulls out several more stops than the show that ran at Le Petit Theatre. As an example, several of the cast members perform in the lobby, in the aisles and on the stage prior to the actual curtain. They portray members of the fictional Cornley Drama Society attempting to mount the play The Murder at Haversham Manor. Several of them continue to play their characters in the lobby and on stage during intermission as well. It all helps to breathe additional life into these improbable characters.
With a talented cast of six men and two women, The Play That Goes Wrong/The Murder at Haversham Mansion features a well crafted and functional set design by John F. Keenan with Stephanie Shea as his associate. In many cases, the set design elicits as many laughs as the cast members reacting to one another and delivering their lines.
Leading the cast of characters is Marc Fouchi as Chris Bean, president of the Cornley Drama Society and director of their play. Fouchi is also listed as a producer for the show at this production. In The Murder at Haversham Manor, he plays the role of Inspector Carter, the inept detective who arrives on the scene following the murder of bridegroom Charles Haversham, played by Jonathan Harris (Matthew Mickal).
Recently seen as one of Rivertown’s gangster-pastry chefs in The Drowsy Chaperone (a role he reprised from their first iteration 12 years ago), Mickal has enjoyed a busy career on many local stages. He is a welcome addition to this production of The Play That Goes Wrong as he deliciously portrays the murder victim, who must be transported to various locations with ridiculous results.
The wonderful comic actor Ken Goode, Jr. portrays Thomas Colleymoore, the Cornley Drama Society’s own Robert Grove. A simple gesture by the veteran actor of a raised eyebrow or an extended reaction can and does attain peals of laughter. He carries much of the weight of this comedy along with Fouchi and Mickal.
Noah Hazzard, who was featured in the previous version of The Play That Goes Wrong in the role of the butler Perkins and Dennis Tyde, reprises those roles in this production and continues to prove that he knows how to evoke laughs from the audience. In several scenes he is the comic foil to his fellow actors, mispronouncing words like “facade” and “philanthropist.”
Pulling double duty in this production is Keith Claverie, the award-winning actor known for his work with The NOLA Project and Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane. He portrays Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, the brother of the victim Charles Haversham in the first act and shows up in the second act as Arthur the Gardener. Claverie’s work expertly doing spit takes and dealing with the chaos onstage is the stuff of comical dreams.
At the beginning of The Murder at Haversham Manor, Emily Bagwill plays the cast’s lone female member Sandra Wilkinson. Sandra plays Florence Colleymoore, the sister of Thomas. Bagwill has matured as a great comedic performer in the last several years possessing a charismatic stage presence and an innate sense of natural choreography.
Barry Acosta as Trevor, the surly lighting and sound operator, and Savannah Chiasson as the company’s stage manager Annie Twilloil, complete the cast of players. Reluctantly, they both manage to become part of the cast of players putting on The Murder at Haversham Manor, but no spoilers on that front.
In between pratfalls, those repetitive spit takes and all manner of hilarious wordplay, everything bad that can happen in a production inevitably occurs in The Play That Goes Wrong. When things do go south. the players have to come up with ingenious, often improbable ways to figure ways around the problems. The results are uproarious.
Ricky Graham’s long established comedy career and many previous starring roles have established him as the premiere director at Rivertown. His hands-on additional work on sound, microphones and lights should assure everyone who attends this Rivertown show that The Play That Goes Wrong will go right at every evening and matinee performance.
The Play That Goes Wrong (2 hours including a 15-minute intermission) continues its lively run at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor Street in Kenner, LA. from now through March 26. Evening showtimes Fri.- Sat. (Thur., March 23) are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2:00 p.m. For tickets click here or call 504-461-9475.