Every actor (and every avid theatergoer) knows that things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, there’s a missed cue or a forgotten line. But, what if absolutely everything that could go wrong does? That’s the impetus behind Theatre Raleigh’s aptly named The Play that Goes Wrong, directed to hilarious perfection by Tim Seib.
In this play-within-a-play, a bumbling theater group with a perfectly pompous director/actor (Happy Mahaney) has chosen to put on (or to attempt to put on) The Murder at Haversham Manor, an over-the-top whodunnit. And, while the plot of the mystery may be simple, nothing else is.
Over the course of two hilarious hours, doors stick, set pieces fall apart, and props don’t stay put. That’s not all either. Actors get injured and have to be replaced. The butler, Perkins (Liam Yates) can’t pronounce anything correctly . . . or remember his lines. Even better, some of the actors get absolutely starstruck. Max (Jeff Ronan), in particular, can’t get over the attention and laughter he garners from the audience, causing him to break into big grins and overact. In fact, while the entire actual cast is loaded with talent, Ronan stands out for the twinkle in his eye and his absolute commitment to his character-within-a-character. Khalil LeSaldo also does a stellar job as the can’t-stay-dead, cue-missing Jonathan/Charles, and Nat M. Sherwood adds to the fun as Annie, a last minute replacement actor who ends up getting a little too into their understudy status.
As this raucous romp progresses, the casualties multiply and get more and more ridiculous. However, the smart writing enables viewers to believe every single minute. In fact, the opening night audience gave helpful hints to the struggling “actors” and made sympathetic sounds as new disasters befell them. Of course, this was in between the uproarious and well-deserved laughter that permeated every moment.
Despite all the laughs, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that a great amount of effort went into this production. To produce a play where everything goes wrong, everything has to go right. One actual missed cue or wrong placement could spell real disaster, but Seib has directed and staged this masterpiece to utter perfection, and Chris Bernier’s magnificent, functional set makes everything possible. At first glance, it’s beautifully designed, intricate, and simple, yet it holds a lot of secrets and surprises. The basic design completely belies everything the set, which is practically a character in its own right, will have to do over the course of the evening.
Ironically, this humorous look at awful play production is a lesson in perfection. It offers truly Broadway-level production value right here in the Raleigh area. But, to be honest, most viewers won’t be thinking about any of that, at least while the show is going on. Instead, they’ll be too busy dying from laughter. With this gem, Theatre Raleigh has achieved one of the most important aims of theatre: sparking joy. And, in a post-COVID world, it’s exactly what audiences need. The only real tragedy is that the production ends on September 25, and once word gets out, it’s sure to sell out fast. Luckily, tickets are available here.
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