Log In

Reset Password

Theater Review: There’s so much right with “The Play That Goes Wrong” at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is flat-out funny.

The comedy is beyond theatrical farce. It’s in the realm of absurdist humor, with references to the literary, theater and film worlds that will delight theater-goers.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” continues through June 16 at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. The June 2 performance was seen for this review.

The play’s premise is that of a play within a play, whereby The Conley Drama Society is presenting “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” a 1920s murder-mystery.

The play begins even before the play begins. As the audience is settling in, the Drama Society’s director, Chris Bonham-Carter (Anthony Lawton), is traipsing the aisles, seeking those with expertise in “carpentry, wiring, medical” or some such.

Meanwhile, last-minute adjustments are being made to the stage set, especially a shaky mantelpiece. An actual audience member, Kathleen Kane of Allentown, was brought on stage to lend a hand at the Sunday matinee.

The play’s dialogue is not only replete with malaprops, the play itself is, literally, a collection of mal props, or “bad” props, which function for the actors as nonfunctioning obstacles to their performances, one of the many ways that the play “goes wrong.”

Without spoiling the surprises for you, there are myriad ways the play goes wrong, including missed cues, dropped lines of dialogue, actors’ heads and bodies bumping into parts of the set and each other, and a cantankerous stage set that becomes a stubborn and recalcitrant character in and of and unto itself. The shenanigans build and build. And so does the humor. You will start out grinning, then chuckling, then laughing out loud.

A lot has to go right in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” The timing must be precise. The actors must be on their marks. The entire play has masterful choreography, not only for the actors, but for the stage set. The mechanics of the set are such that precautions for the actors’ safety are paramount. It’s a very physical play. There are pratfalls, sleight of hands and stage combat. There are real thrills for the audience.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is not grounded in reality, except don’t tell that to the characters in the play within the play. The actors who play the characters are so committed to the ridiculousness of the roles as to make the proceedings even more preposterous.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” even has a faux playblll for “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” which is amusingly detailed.

To open its 33rd season, PSF partnered with 1812 Productions, Philadelphia, which presented “The Play That Goes Wrong” in its 2023 season.

The original production of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” written by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, has been playing in London since 2012, receiving Best New Comedy in the 2014 Laurence Olivier Awards. There was a Broadway production 2017-2019.

1812 Productions Producing Artistic Director Jennifer Childs directs the show at PSF, including the original 1812 Productions team of Scenic Designer Colin Mcilvaine, Props Designer Liz McDonald, Costume Designer Janus Stefanowicz, Lighting Designer Ayssandra Docherty and Sound Designer Damien Figueras. Fight Director is Eli Lynn.

The master of the mayhem is Anthony Lawton as director Chris Bonham-Carter of the play within the play and, in the play, Inspector Carter. Lawton turns droll into tomfoolery in the most unassuming and satisfying way.

Eli Lynn as Trevor the stage manager is quick on the double-take.

Scott Greer as Robert plays fulsomeness to the hilt and great hilarity.

Sean Close as Perkins has the butler role buttoned up, effectively overacting, with arms and legs in stiff and stark contrast.

Ian Merrill Peakes as Charles brings a steady pulse to a non-pulse role.

Karen Peakes as Florence has an understated persistence that makes the role a comedic foil.

Melanie Cotton as Annie the stage hand has some nice silly moments.

Justin Jain as Cecil steals every scene he’s in with inappropriate asides and breaking character.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is a master class in theater craft, the art of acting and sheer entertainment power of live theater at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Don’t miss it.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” continues, 7:30 p.m. June 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14; 2 p.m. June 9, 16; 6:30 p.m. June 11; 2, 7:30 p.m. June 8, 15, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Main Stage Theatre, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley. 610-282-9455, https://pashakespeare.org/

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY KRISTY MCKEEVER The cast of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” presented by Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and Philadelphia's 1812 Productions.