BY SANDY STAGGS
Ever heard the theatre maxim “The REAL drama happens backstage”?
The Peace Center’s 2018-19 Broadway Series opener turns this hypothesis on its head with all of the drama and sidesplitting’ comedic antics on stage and in full display for a tickled-pink audience to revel.
Audiences for “The Play That Goes Wrong,” the longest-running play on Broadway making a one-week Greenville engagement, are greeted by members of the crew of the Agatha Christie-ish mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor” as they search the aisles for a lost dog.
A possibly vicious canine running afoot (errrrr apaw) in the theatre portends the wackiness and mirthful mayhem to come much like a flight attendant asking passengers if they he seen a large bolt lying around the cabin.
The “crew” is also haplessly fine-tuning the tidy but fragile set of a quaint English manor equipped with a second story loft, elevator, secret passage door, a grandfather clock with storage space and more.
That is, if the low-budget and high jinx in this Cornley University Drama Society production don’t bomb. Previous shoestring and short-staffed endeavors include the singular “Cat,” “The Lion and The Wardrobe” and “James and the Peach.” And if props and set dressings don’t fall off the walls or get mixed-up in imaginative ways. Or if the door won’t open, or an actor enters so early that he accidentally spoils half the mystery. Of course, everything that can go wrong does.
And the “performances” are comparable, particularly Ned Noyes’ superb mastery of bad acting as actor Max Bennett playing Cecil Haversham, the Murder Victim’s brother meticulously dressed in the most dapper aristocratic leisure wear by Roberto Surace. His melodramatic movement s and hyperbolic gestures of every line of dialogue is worth the price of admission alone
Evan Alexander Smith shines as Chris Bean (Inspector Carter in the play) with measured boldness and ever so amusingly seriousness as the director, star and nearly every other position imaginable in the show’s credits.
In the same loony vein as “Noises Off,” the actors persevere and thrive through pratfalls and Monty Pythonesque gags such as stepping on Yeager T. Welch’s “dead” character’s hand and a bountiful supply of knocks and bangs in physically-demanding leaps of precision. Thead stunts are so realistic and on point. And trick I still have not figured out how they accomplished.
This cast is terrific and in dual or multiple roles, with special kudos to Jamie Ann Romero as the philandering flapper fiancée and Angela Grovey as the stage manager for their hilarity and catfight, Scott Cote as the inept actor playing Perkins and who mispronounces words he doesn’t know even though they are written on his palm; and Brandon J. Ellis as the lackadaisical Lighting & Sound Operator who is constantly on his phone and missing cues throughout the show.
But the biggest star of “The Play That Goes Wrong” is the Tony Award-winning set design by Nigel Hook. Don’t let the size and community theatre qualities fool you. This set is ALIVE and act two is insane.
The play-within-the-play also delivers a double whammy in the Peace Center Playbill, as the first few pages contain the fictional playbill for the fictional murder mystery replete with invented biographies, mock ads, and even a Letter from the Drama Society President, again Mr. Bean. The real playbill with the real actors of “The Play That Goes Wrong” (produced by THE JJ Abrams) starts on page 15.
And no spoilers here but pay attention to the box seat just above stage right. Oh and Simon LeBon has a cameo.
This British play is by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company. And it is refreshing to see the Peace Center take a chance on a non-musical play in its programming that is nearly always musical-oriented. And while this work doesn’t quite carry quite the amazement of last season’s groundbreaking “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” it comes very close.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” continues through Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Peace Center, 300 South Main Street in Greenville. Call (864) 467-3000 or visit http://www.peacecenter.org.