Hilarious production of Broadway comedy delivers the laughs
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
How can something that goes so wrong be so right?
That’s the intention in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” the opening play for the 2023 season at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. What makes the play amazing and uproariously fun is that, incredibly, the googolplex litany of what goes wrong when they continually happen at the right times.
Confused? That’s part of the fun.
“The Play That Goes Wrong,” one of Broadway’s longest-running comedies, is a play within a play. The snowball of stumbling-tumbling fiascos begin when the fictional Rogue Valley Drama Society premier their newest production, “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” a 1920s whodunit.
What happens is amateur theater at its worst, when so much goes wrong that keeping up with the theatrical foo-paws is like trying to count individual specks of snow during a blizzard. “The Play” doesn’t offer a laugh a minute. Often, it’s nearly a laugh a second.
Director Valerie Rachelle, who incredibly worked with staff and the performers to create the deluge of carefully choreographed scenes, accurately explains that as “The Play” begins, “things quickly go from bad to utterly disastrous.”
The Cabaret cast is incredible, from the butler who mispronounces words with charming fidelity to a “corpse” that can’t stay dead to the sound engineer with a Duran-Duran fixation. People smash head-first into walls, show off incredible gymnastics under incredible circumstances, a switcheroo involving paint thinner and whiskey, falling props and a stagehand infected with leading lady fever.
But, regardless of what pitfalls occur, despite a series of nightmarish calamities, the show business adage, “The Show Must Go On,” prevails.
A significant part of the comedy revolves around the set. Just as “The Murder” falls apart, so does the stage. What happens is something that needs to be seen to be believed. According to Rachell, “The Play” was timed to open the Cabaret season because “the dark time in January allowed us to get the set built and rehearse on the set. So much of this play is about the set falling apart and things going wrong physically — we really needed to perform with these set pieces in place.”
Fight choreographer-associate director U. Jonathan Toppo was reportedly needed at most rehearsals because, as Rachell accurately explains, “there are so many physical gags in the show. The key is making it look like things are dangerously going wrong without any real danger.”
For audiences, the danger might be severe bellyaches from laughing so often and raucously.
The belly laugh-creating cast includes Cabaret veteran Tony Carter, but he never generated so much hilarity in productions of “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Full Monty” and “Mamma Mia!” Other Cabaret veterans include Nicolas Wilder, Rebecca Tucker, Sierra Wells, Tim Fuchs, Billy Breed, August Gabriel, Austin Miller and Elliot Anderson, with all having repeated moments, many moments, of incredible hilarity.
“The Play” debuted in 2012 and has been running in London since then. Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, it won the Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards. It ran on Broadway from 2017 and 2019 and later toured in Australia.
Rachelle, the Cabaret’s artistic director, has previously directed several plays, including “Winter Wonderettes,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Cabaret,” ”The Rocky Horror Show,” “Noises Off,” “Dames at Seas,” “Pine Mountain Lodge,” “Once” and “9 to 5,” among several others. Her skills are evident in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” where everything truly goes right.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.