Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Play That Goes Wrong
Also see Carole's recent review of Seascape
At rise, we meet the eight members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society on opening night of their latest offering The Murder at Havisham Manor. The Cornley cast includes Chris Bean (Westin Huffman), who among many other duties, is also society president, and ambitious Robert, who wants to be society president. There is the shy, unassuming Dennis, and desperately debonaire and often premature Jonathan. Max, who is only in it for fun, and Sandra, an agonizingly aspiring Hollywood artiste, are also part of the group. Stage manager Annie is busy, very busy, trying to get everything in order, while the light and sound guy Trevor has already had enough of the troupe and is cranky as a result. Crew and cameo role personages (Michelle Charisse and Castalia Mayerhofer) round out the cast.
Not quite ready to start, if the play's title isn't clue enough, the onstage bustle should be a hint of the chaos to come. Mr. Wiggles the dog is missing, and stagehands wander through the audience looking for him. Trevor is very vocal about his boxed Duran Duran CDs being missing, and onstage some of the set seems in serious need of repair. But nothing can dissuade this troupe from pressing forward, and within minutes, Chris, director, scenic, costume and props designer, stunt choreographer and music supervisor, who also plays Inspector Carter, gives his curtain speech. After his welcome, he reassures us this Agatha Christie type murder mystery, set in the 1920s, will be a vast improvement on their previous cash-strapped productions of, among others, The Lion and the Wardrobe, and Cat.
This production is directed by Henry Avery, who gathered a great group for the production. The set is impressive, reminded me of the Addams family mansion, such are the striking array of secrets and surprises it holds. The tech booth wherein resides the irate, impatient, heavily tattooed Trevor (Brian Clifton, who was a marvelous Scrooge in last year's ALT production of A Christmas Carol), is replete with rolls of gaffer tape, posters, odds and ends, and a small trashcan overflowing with empty soda cans.
The Play That Goes Wrong is a mix of slapstick, farce, satire, and more than a little Pythonesque in nature. As the cast valiantly attempt to take every disaster in their stride, determined to battle through to the bitter end, the long-suffering Chris despairs. And he has a lot to despair about. Missed cues abound, props go missing, people go missing–reappearing as other people, actors over-act, don't act, or forget they are supposed to act. And even though Trevor really, really wants to go home, the blissfully unaware cast are unwavering in their resolve that "the show must go on."
So, we meet the very obliging and suave victim, Charles Havisham (Santiago Baca), who places himself on the chaise lounge even as the curtain rises. Perkins, the butler with no medical training enters, and declares his master dead–murdered, just prior to his wedding day. Charles's distraught (extraordinarily distraught–you won't want to miss this one) fiancée Florence Colleymore (by Stevie Nichols), is beside herself with grief–or is she? Romantic entanglements complicate matters further still, and the accidental injury to a cast member means stage manager Annie (Adrianne Wise, who is hilarious) must stand in for the role. Initially reluctant, this script-carrying substitute later defends her right to stay onstage with a passionate and murderous determination worthy of Bertha Rochester from Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre."
Max (Charlie Dearing) plays both Cecil Havisham, younger brother to the unfortunate dead-but-he-won't-lie-down Charles, and Arthur, the faithful gardener who has apparently served the Havisham household for an impressive 90 years. Regardless of which of the three characters he inhabits, Dearing has a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall whenever the humor takes him. And that's not the only fun he has.
The overly affable Robert (Jim Williams) is Thomas Colleymore, brother of Florence and right-hand man to Inspector Carter, who sees himself as the only important person on the stage; he is determined to be indispensable. He is also the only one who befriends the character Dennis (Parker Owen) plays, the butler Perkins, who really only joined the troupe to make friends. Owen is delightful in this role, eager to please, and agonizing hilariously over his pronunciation of unfamiliar, literally off-the cuff, words.
This is a very physical comedy. It's astounding how amusing attempted murder can be. Defenestration, on a scale even larger than that which we have learned to appreciate from our Russian neighbors, not-so-subtly crop up at the oddest times. More than once my heart went sideways watching not only the actors, but also the set itself behave in strange and unusual ways. This, being one of the most imaginative stage sets I have seen, gave rise to numerous gasps from the opening night's audience. By turns alarming, rib-tickling, or both, the technical aspects of the production are unquestionably central to its success. Very, very well done, Jason Roman, the set construction crew, and all the many stage crew members who made this all happen. I'm so impressed. Less technological–shall I say more meteorological factors?–also contribute, and every time, without fail, we all laughed. Sometimes, it truly is the little things. It must have been a lot of fun planning all these features, with a great deal of flair and talent evident in their execution. Shout out to dialect coach and dialect captain, Colleen McClure and Michelle Charisse, respectively, and also to props/sound designer Lando Ruiz. Kudos indeed to stunt coordinator Westin Huffman.
The Play That Goes Wrong is a funny play. It's not innovative, but it is creative and cleverly put together. A friend in Ireland saw this play in London recently and she said it was immensely creative there as well. There are a couple of places–the seemingly endless repetition of spitting up from a glass–where things get old, but overall, it is enjoyable. I think I would have preferred to see it in the original one-act, where there would be no break in continuity. But it is still a great deal of fun, and judging from the laughter from the surprising number of youngsters present, one which the whole family will enjoy.
The Play That Goes Wrong runs through September 24, 2023, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale Ave. S.W., Albuquerque NM. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 or visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org.