Set mishaps, script blunders, mispronunciations, and actors being knocked unconscious are only some of the bungles in The Play that Goes Wrong. The comical farce is two hours of slapstick and silly humor centering around a play which is running far from smoothly. Currently playing on Broadway, you can see it for as low as $30, though I highly recommend the front row balcony tickets for $49 ($57 after fees). Tickets here.
Upon entry to the theatre, audiences are greeted by a sneering mustached man with a crooked bowtie who is in fact the lead actor and “director” of the play within the play (portrayed by Mark Evans). Similarly, a stage manager (played by Akron Watson) is fixing, or rather, slamming a door that won’t stay shut. Eventually the door’s unreliability and further slamming causes mayhem during the show, disrupting the plot and causing further mayhem.
As the lights dim, audiences are introduced to the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and their play A Murder at Haversham Manor – the play within The Play that Goes Wrong. At the rise of the curtain, calamity immediately strikes: actors are scrambling to their positions, props are broken, the dysfunctional set (including the aforementioned broken door) causes injury. One such mishap is when the whiskey on set is replaced with a bottle of paint thinner. Characters take a sip of the whiskey and remark “that’s delicious” - even while they are choking and spitting it out. Similarly, everything that could go wrong does – providing high energy farce and slapstick comedy. This may be terribly fun or simply terrible, depending on your preference
At the core of the gaudy play is a story offering a positive and humorous perspective on calamity and chaos. The characters in The Play that Goes Wrong view their work as direly serious, judging their performance with solemnity. Their delusion of success and consequential despair when their show falls apart is comical and ludicrous. Such an instance offers humor as an alternative perspective for despair – that we can laugh at our mistakes and use them to grow.
From a production perspective, The Play that Goes Wronggoes right in several ways. Namely, its humor is self-devised, meaning the play is funny without prior context. Viewers are not expected to know any canonized works or be familiar with any style of theatre to find the play funny. Furthermore, the depth of design that a period work requires (the play within the play is set in the 1930’s) makes the piece all the more mesmerizing. Such qualities make The Play that Goes Wrong appealing for those who do not typically see Broadway shows.
The show’s business model is centered around being charming for audiences that typically do not see Broadway shows, with low ticket prices (which start at $30) and a very low weekly running cost of $300K (which is 1/3 – 1/5 of typical). The show’s venue, the Lyceum Theater, seats 922, comparably small for Broadway considering the Gershwin Theater, where Wicked plays, which seats 1923. Such a choice in a venue allows for lower running cost of the show. Casting is also done with this accessibility in mind, as no stars are in the cast. As a whole, the production seems designed for non-typical theater goers.
Overall, if you enjoy gaudy low-brow humor, you’ll enjoy The Play that Goes Wrong. If you enjoy more cerebral work or are easily aggravated from shouting or slamming doors, you will most likely not enjoy this play. And if you are curious to see what a high quality low-budget Broadway show looks like, purchase $30 tickets and be amazed.