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The Play That Goes Wrong
by Karen Topham

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Playwright: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields

At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: . Runs through: Dec. 16.

The conceit of The Play That Goes Wrong is that a college theatre troupe, the Cornley University Drama Society, is putting on a '20s-style murder mystery called The Murder at Haversham Manor when ( as you'd guess from the title ) every awful thing that could possibly go wrong does so. Players are accidentally knocked unconscious.

A supposedly dead character can't seem to stay still. "Whiskey" is accidentally replaced with paint thinner. The sound operator ( Brandon J. Ellis ) isn't paying attention to cues ( and he's lost his precious Duran Duran CD, which might be even worse ). The stage manager ( Angela Grovey ) can't get the mantle to stay on the fireplace. Props fall off walls. Parts of the set collapse. But, no matter what happens around or to them, the brave souls of the Drama Society apparently believe in the motto "The show must go on," and on it goes despite more errors than it's possible to count.

All of this insanity, though, is presented by a thoroughly professional cast and crew. Every member of the cast is essentially playing two roles: the character in the murder mystery and the "actor" playing that character. Director Matt DiCarlo must have had a grand time working with all of the nuances of this crazy show; his cast certainly shines and performances are very brilliant. As much as the "Drama Society" actors are about the worst thing you could imagine, the actors playing them are superb ( a word not on the list ) and a joy to watch.

Evan Alexander Smith plays the dual role of the Drama Society's director and the inspector who comes out in a snowstorm ( shredded paper flung into the air outside of the window ) to uncover the answer to the mysterious death of Charles Haversham ( Yaegel T. Welch ), who is shown dead from the opening of the play but somehow never quite stays that way. Among the suspects: brother and sister Thomas and Florence Colleymoore ( Peyton Crim and Jamie Ann Romero ), the dead man's brother Cecil ( Ned Noyes ), and the butler, Perkins ( Scott Cote ). Crim, with a booming voice that would be perfectly at home in coming attractions trailers at the movies, has a dynamic presence onstage, a complete contrast with Noyes, whose "actor" character is in the show by virtue of having donated large sums of money.

As "Max," Noyes happily chews scenery, breaks character, and interacts with the audience when there is applause or laughter ( both of which are plentiful ), and generally has a good time every minute, as opposed to Crim's more serious character. Romero spends a good part of the play "unconscious" in the wings, replaced by Grovey as Annie the Stage Manager, who is terrified to be onstage until she finds her mojo and then can't be pulled away, even fighting with the revived Romero to keep "her" role. Cote, playing a neophyte actor who is only doing drama because he failed in tryouts for everything else, has tremendous fun with the mispronunciations of words ( "Kyan Niddy" is one of the best ) as well as some great physical comedy near the end of the play. And Ellis is a hoot even before the play begins, as he and Grovey seek to fix last-minute issues on set.

Ultimately, The Play That Goes Wrong is an absolutely outrageous, tremendously funny farce that will keep you laughing throughout the evening. Honestly, I can't recall laughing so constantly at anything in a very long time. If you are looking for a laugh, you can't go wrong here.

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