Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Play That Goes Wrong
Also see Gil's review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
The premise of the show is simple. We, the audience, are about to witness the latest production presented by The Cornley University Drama Society–a hilariously inept British whodunit titled The Murder at Haversham Manor. This third-rate theatre company comprises amateurs, including an actor who can't remember how to pronounce words in the script, a dog in the cast that has gone missing, stagehands who miss their cues, and a set that appears to have been put together with Scotch tape. Chaos ensues even before the play begins, with props misplaced and the set crumbling as the performance unfolds.
The Play That Goes Wrong, which earned the 2015 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and a Tony for its set design, amplifies the chaotic backstage mayhem of Noises Off. However, it lacks the character development found in Frayn's work, which enhances the humor by giving insight into the offstage lives of the fictional actors. Additionally, the plot of the play within a play becomes somewhat overshadowed by the mounting insanity.
Fortunately, it's a very funny play and Chelsea Anderson's direction and the entire MCC cast are excellent. Anderson maintains a fast pace and frenetic action throughout the production. The hilarity escalates continuously, with each moment meticulously timed to elicit big laughs. While the cast all are very good in delivering their humorous portrayals, there are a few comic bits where timing could be slightly tighter to generate even bigger laughs. However, even with those few tiny quibbles, the overall impact is excellent and the end result very funny.
There's much to love in this production especially when the two stage managers are reluctantly pulled into the performance and the cast find themselves at odds with the props and set. Nicholas Chizek shines as the actor who can't remember his lines, even when they're written on his hands. Alex Parker relishes his role as Max, indulging in over-the-top scenery chewing. Jesse Kinser and Jeffrey Rudolph display exceptional comedic skills and athleticism when dealing with the unexpected. Jaiden Weid's physical comedy as the knocked-out actress is exceptional, and her interactions with Mantra Rostami provide humorous outcomes when both end up playing the same part in the play within a play. Andy Gongora excels as the actor struggling to stay "dead," and Jayden Brighton is a gem as the laid-back stage manager, Trevor.
While the direction and cast are outstanding, this play wouldn't truly succeed without an excellent set, and Rachel Aguirre's, which is reminiscent of Nigel Hook's Tony-winning design, is superb, as are Natalie Ward's props. As doors jam, props fall, and walls crumble, the set embodies catastrophe, and the set's defects and ongoing flaws, along with the humorous props, consistently draw laughter. The costumes by Gail Wolfenden-Stieb and hair, wigs, and make-up by Bo Stass are gorgeous, period-perfect designs. Peter Weisman's lighting and Dakota Erickson's sound design provide additional pops of humor throughout.
With frenzied action and a frantic, fast pace, Mesa Community College's production of The Play That Goes Wrong is a sidesplitting comedy that will have you laughing continually throughout its two-hour duration.
The Play That Goes Wrong runs through October 14, 2023, at Mesa Community College, Southern & Dobson Campus, 1833 W. Southern Avenue, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.mesacc.edu
Directed by Chelsea Anderson