The Old Log Theatre in Excelsior MN launches it’s first play since the Covid-19 shutdown with the hysterically funny, The Play That Goes Wrong. Excelsior may sound like it’s a ways to travel for a show, but it’s really just a 30 minute drive from the cities and believe me, this production is worth the trip. I was a big fan of this show when the touring company came through a few years ago for the Broadway on Hennepin theatre season. I liked it so much I took it in twice in it’s one week run. I was worried how well Old Log Theatre would be able to stage this much loved show. My fears were groundless, Old Log Theatre have pulled off the production perfectly, which is ironic given the nature of this play.
This is basically a play within a play, in the tradition of Noises Off. Like that modern classic, it relies on split second timing to work. It’s not a show for a timid cast, as much a highwire act as it is a performance. The conceit of the show is that we, the audience, are attending opening night of an amatuer theatrical society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. What we are there to actually see is a performance of a play in which everything that can go wrong does, and then some. To describe the specific mishaps that occur would rob you of the enjoyment in store but they range from set and prop malfunctions to missing performers. And while a tremendous amount of humor comes from things the cast cannot control, it also comes from the characters themselves. From hammy actors to reluctant stagehands, they all share one thing in common an unwavering belief that the show must go on. The fact that they’re an amatuer theatre group is key. They know enough to stay in character but not enough to cover over errors in a way that shields the audience from the mishaps. Instead of altering course to get the play back on track, they simply plow ahead. For example, if they are sent into a room to get a pencil, and cannot find one on the desk, they simply pretend to pick up a pencil as a professional performer would do. They feel like they must pick something up from the desk and pretend it’s the option they were sent for so for a pencil, they pick up the keys. Of course the keys will be asked for next but those being gone, something else will be taken instead. Their blind commitment to the the script and blocking turn singular mishaps into snowballing catastrophes. One thing you can say for this group of “actors” is, they will not quit.
The cast is a true ensemble and all of them work together to keep the mistakes coming at a breakneck pace. Neal Beckman as Perkins the Butler, brings a comic verbal quality to his role that goes beyond his characters penchant for mispronunciation. Audrey Parry as Annie one of the stagehands, provides one of the best nonverbal moments of the show when she has to take the place of a piece of the set that has broken. Michael Terrell Brown plays the actor with a double role in the show within a show, he plays two distinct characters but still allows us to see the same attention seeker actor playing both. Carl Swanson and Luke Aaron Davidson are put through the ringer physically particularly their time in the library, to say more would be to spoil the fun. Emily Scinto is surely the most bruised performer after each performance showing a true gift for taking bumps and milking them for laughs. The cast is rounded out by Greg Frankenfield and Neal Skoy doing their best to keep the show on track, usually in giggle inducingly and misguided ways.
As I said this is a true ensemble cast, there is no star but if there was, it would be the set. The set was the aspect of the show I was unsure they would be able to pull off. I’m happy to say that Erik Paulson’s scenic and lighting design is worthy of the star role. Assisted by Technical Director Evan Sima, Sound Designer Nick Mrozek, Costume Designer Amber Brown, Props Designer Abbee Warmboe they recapture the essence and the functionality of the very polished touring version. It is an environment that is a marvel to watch disintegrate before your eyes. A key to getting the most out of your attendance at this show is to get there early and watch the stagehands get the set ready, also make sure to pay attention during intermission. This is a show that is as much about the behind the scenes of putting on a play as it is about telling a story. There are easter eggs for the observant audience member. The show was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, & Henry Shields who have made a franchise out of these productions with “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” and a TV series, “The Show That Goes Wrong”. This production was directed by Eric Morris who finds the right balance for his cast of “staying in character” while also trying to communicate as the “actor ” with each other while on stage. He does a great job of keeping a clarity of what is happening at any given time in what could be a very confusing play.
This is a favorite show and I cannot recommend it enough. I suggest sitting as centered as you can and as close as possible to the stage, front row is not to close. I don’t usually have dress suggestions for readers, but if you have a weak bladder you may wish to invest in some adult undergarments. I had moments where I had trouble breathing I was laughing so hard. If you’ve been waiting for a fun show to head back to the theatre, this fits the bill. It’s hard to imagine a show that will give you more fits of laughter and sheer delight than The Play That Goes Wrong.
The Play That Goes Wrong play through February 26th 2022 for more information, for Covid policies, and to purchase tickets go to http://oldlog.com/Shows/The-Play-That-Goes-Wrong