Since theater is a live event, that means that on any given evening anything – good or bad – could happen. But with the play currently at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall, if something unexpected went wrong, you would never know it.
That is because the show playing through Sunday is called The Play That Goes Wrong, an Olivier Award-winning British import based on one slim notion – theatrical havoc.
In the opening moments, as stagehands prepare the set and props for the evening’s performance, a center stage door refuses to stay shut. In The Play That Goes Wrong, that is just the beginning of slapstick snafus, pratfalls, misbehaving props, flubbed dialogue and a set that self-destructs before our eyes. And presumably all of those events were intentional, but the nimble company of performers make it look like spontaneous ruination. For two relentless hours.
That either sounds to you like a great deal of giddy fun or mind-numbing silliness. Comedy is a highly subjective commodity, of course, so feel free to find this play a few quarts low in the humor department. I will concede that I found myself laughing – I learned that I find funny swiftly opening doors that conk heads and render anyone in their path unconscious – but such physical comedy reaches diminishing returns with me pretty quickly.
Yes, your mileage may vary, for there were plenty of audience members at Tuesday’s opening night performance who could be heard guffawing at the same jokes, over and over.
Not that it really matters, but the play-within-the play is called The Murder at Haversham Manor, and is allegedly produced by the Cornley University Drama Society. This fictitious, rank amateur theater troupe somehow snagged a South Florida venue for its murder mystery. Picture an Agatha Christie whodunit crossed with a Ray Cooney farce.
A cast of eight, including the show-within-the-show’s stagehand and stage manager who sheepishly find themselves caught onstage at regular intervals, do their best to convey normalcy amid the chaos. While everything is going wrong, they barrel on with the play, tacitly insisting that all is right within their world. I suppose you could see this as some metaphor for life, but it is more likely that the play – written by a committee of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields – just wants to be empty-headed inanity.
The performers are fine and it is probably not their fault that tour director Matt DiCarlo (based on the Broadway staging by Mark Bell) encourages or allows them to shout and mug in the late going. The real star of the show, however, is scenic designer Nigel Hook, whose vintage manor interior is reduced to shambles right before us. Particularly disastrous – in a good way – is an upstairs room which lands on the ground floor in several precarious steps.
The Play That Goes Wrong will probably remind you of is Michael Frayn’s far superior Noises Off. That farce actually bothered to motivate the onstage calamity, rather than settling for mere gremlin catastrophe.
Nevertheless, if you are the sort of person who attends a sportscar race hoping to see a crash, you will probably enjoy The Play That Goes Wrong. So did I, for about the first 20 minutes.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Continuing through Sun., Dec. 15. $36-$85. CAll 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.