Theatre review: Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

From+left%3A+Scott+Cote%2C+Yaegel+T.+Welch%2C+Peyton+Crim%2C+Jamie+Ann+Romero+and+Ned+Noyes+in+Center+Theatre+Group%E2%80%99s+The+Play+That+Goes+Wrong
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Theatre review: Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

From left: Scott Cote, Yaegel T. Welch, Peyton Crim, Jamie Ann Romero and Ned Noyes in Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

From left: Scott Cote, Yaegel T. Welch, Peyton Crim, Jamie Ann Romero and Ned Noyes in Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

Photos by Jeremy Daniel

From left: Scott Cote, Yaegel T. Welch, Peyton Crim, Jamie Ann Romero and Ned Noyes in Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

Photos by Jeremy Daniel

Photos by Jeremy Daniel

From left: Scott Cote, Yaegel T. Welch, Peyton Crim, Jamie Ann Romero and Ned Noyes in Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

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What if everything that could go wrong, does go wrong in a murder-mystery play? That’s an understatement in The Play That Goes Wrong, continuing at the Ahmanson Theatre through Aug. 11. Ostensibly a touring production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” put on by the fictitious Cornley University Drama Society, mayhem gives way to pandemonium as our young players grapple with constantly failing sets and missed cues. No more fun could possibly be had at the theater.

Apparently made possible by the “British-American Cultural Exchange Program,” the touring production is perhaps not quite ready for the Ahmanson stage. But that doesn’t deter director, designer, voice coach, prop-maker and fight choreographer Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith), who also plays Inspector Carter, from welcoming the audience to the show and questioning our laughter.

For the hilarity starts even before the play begins, with sound operator Trevor (Brandon J. Ellis) and stage manager Annie (Angela Grovey) making last-minute set adjustments with the help of an audience member and clearly not quite succeeding at securing the mantelpiece or unsticking the door to the drawing room where most of the action takes place. And that’s just a hint of what turn out be major set disasters, including the entire second-floor library becoming unhinged.

From left: Peyton Crim, Scott Cote, Evan Alexander Smith and Ned Noyes in Center Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong

Add to this drama-society student actors at various stages of ability, plus the lead actress Sandra (Jamie Ann Romero) being knocked out by the door, or ending up inside the grandfather clock or thrown out the large window, and having to be replaced by the untrained stage manager. The result is nonstop, often cringeworthy, mess-ups that the actors try desperately to work around, including misspoken words, missed cues, a dead body that moves around or is not there when examined, misplaced props, paint thinner for whiskey, and dialogue among four characters that somehow gets stuck in a loop they can’t escape.

The story itself is straight from the vein of Agatha Christie– Charles Haversham played by Jonathan Harris (Yaegel T. Welch) is found dead soon after his engagement to Florence Collymore (Romero), discovered by her brother Thomas Collymore, played by Robert Grove (Peyton Crim), and butler Perkins played by Dennis Hyde (Scott Cote), who has large-word (such as “cyanide”) pronunciation trouble. Also in the mix are Charles’s brother Cecil Haversham, played by a hammy Max Bennett, who also plays the gardener (Ned Noyes), and Inspector Carter (Smith) who must piece together everyone’s motives and clues, though by the end it really doesn’t seem to matter who did it.

Instead, the audience is led like the gardener’s invisible dog on a leash by director Matt DiCarlo and Mischief Theatre writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields through ceaseless hysterics in a circus-like performance. In his “director’s” note, Bean hopes that “with a full audience, the piece will truly bring down the house.” That it does, deliriously, along with any sense of decorum left in the British murder-mystery tradition.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA, through Aug. 11, with shows Tuesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets start at $30. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or visit Centertheatregroup.org.