Thursday, December 06, 2018

Imperfect Hilarity Ensues: 'The Play That Goes Wrong' Gets a Whole Lot Right -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Play That Goes Wrong
National Tour
Oriental Theater, Chicago
Thru December 16

As insinuated by its cheeky title, essentially stated in its onstage introduction and reflected by its prevailing vibe, The Play That Goes Wrong knows--whether in London, on Broadway or on tour in Chicago--what it is:

A show to see if you can't get tickets to Hamilton (or something else more demonstrably desirous).

Or a fallback plan if some kind of ticketing snafu ensues.

Yet while it will likely only be a "first choice" to those who prefer slapstick comedy to magnificent musicals or scintillating drama, The Play That Goes Wrong gets a whole lot right.


For a mirthful but largely inconsequential show like this doesn't succeed in London, New York and on tour across the UK and USA unless it's really good for what it is.

And although, yes, I clearly prefer Hamilton, other first-rate musicals, top-notch plays, great rock concerts and--even within a comedy realm--superlative stand-up comedians, variety is the spice of theater, entertainment and, of course, life.

Photos not necessarily of the current tour cast. 
So as a Broadway in Chicago subscriber and voluminous theatergoer, I welcomed and relished The Play That Goes Wrong as something different.

Within it's own vernacular, it doesn't feel all that unique, as the cheeky British humor reminds of Monty Python. And in traipsing in comedy and parody, it brought to mind recent-past theatrical works like The 39 Steps, Something Rotten, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder and Murder For Two

In finding my reviews of those four shows for the hyperlinks, I was reminded that I awarded each @@@@ on my 5@ scale, as I now have The Play That Goes Wrong.

This basically connotes a show that I truly enjoyed and was happy to see, but don't feel a great need to see again. And while I imagine anyone would enjoy the humor enough to make for a fine night of entertainment, the inherent lack of depth makes my recommendation somewhat less than emphatic.

But if British humor playing up Agatha Christie-type mysteries such as The Mousetrap sounds like your cup of tea, The Play That Goes Wrong should provide considerable delight.

I am not someone who laugh out loud all that much, and this show--with truly outstanding physical humor--prompted many LOL guffaws.

The show is written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of London's Mischief Theatre Company, and the three of them starred in the West End production--which continues to run--and then on Broadway, where a nearly 2-year run ends in January.

Within The Play That Goes Wrong, the conceit is that the Comley University Drama Society is presenting a play called, The Murder at Haversham Manor.

In it, Inspector Carter (Chris Bean in the tour cast, which is excellent throughout) comes to investigate the murder of Charles Haversham (Jonathan Harris), with the latter's fiance Florence (Sandra Wilkinson), best friend Thomas (Robert Grove), brother Cecil (Max Bennett) and servant Perkins (Dennis Tyde) among the suspects.

All sorts of hijinks ensue, from scenery mishaps to mispronounced words to cast members being repeatedly injured and much other mayhem.

Most of it is funny, some of it outright hilarious.

And leaving out any other specifics, I would dub The Play That Goes Wrong a really good show that often feels terrific.

If somehow the mystery at the core of the play-within-the-play was itself brilliant, the whole affair would rise significantly--from fun-yet-fleeting to truly phenomenal.

As it stands, you will laugh, you will smile, you will appreciate inspired gags and abundant talent onstage--plus some terrific ad hoc humor, unless some heckling wasn't by "a plant"--and you will have a good time at The Play That Goes Wrong, even if you don't think too much during or after it.

And that should sound all right to just about anyone.

No comments: