Theater poster for The Play That Goes Wrong


Title: The Play That Goes Wrong

The Room Where It Happened: The Broadway Playhouse, Chicago, IL

Let’s Get This Show On the Road:

A play within a play, The Play That Goes Wrong is ostensibly a murder mystery performed by a down on its heels college theater group. As you may guess from the title, the production quickly devolves into chaos. Collapsing sets, prop malfunctions, missed cues, forgotten dialogue, injured actors, and a drunken sound tech lead to one of the most disastrous performances since Carrie: The Musical.

The Room Where It Happened:

The Broadway Playhouse, Chicago, IL, though we also saw it in New York a couple of years ago

Sign My Playbill:

All the roles were pure slapstick caricatures, but each with their own unique brand of comedy. Chris, the director and actor who breaks the fourth wall to yell at the real life audience for laughing at what’s supposed to be a serious production. Johnathan, the murder victim, who’s forced to get up and move repeatedly due to prop malfunctions. Dennis, who writes difficult to remember words on his hand (and still mispronounces them). Robert, who’s constantly forced to perform on a collapsing balcony, surrounded by rolling set pieces. Sandra, the leading lady who isn’t afraid to go onstage in her underwear. Max, who loves mugging for the audience but breaks down in fear when he’s supposed to kiss Sandra. Annie, the stage manager who is roped onto stage when Sandra is knocked out. Trevor, the surly sound tech who has to fill in as leading lady when Annie is also knocked out (much to Max’s delight).

The Book:

Pure silliness. There’s no real plot to speak of, unless you bother trying to follow the original murder mystery. Instead, you get to marvel at the amazing comic timing of these actors. They tumble from and climb up onto balconies, hurl and catch props from across the stage, pratfall so often you wonder if they’re actually faking being hurt, and generally staying in character as things collapse around them.

Setting the Scene:

I have never in my entire life seen a set so complicated and involved. The sheer amount of explosions, set pieces that collapse on cue, and the dozens of props that fly around the stage is staggering. It boggles my mind how effortlessly this all went off, though in a play like this, who could tell if someone made a mistake?

I was especially amazed by the collapsing balcony, which would randomly sink lower and lower during the play, as the actors staggered about, trying to keep heavy set pieces (and each other) from falling off.

Standing O:

This wasn’t the greatest venue for an actor to show off their dramatic chops, but the breathtaking amount of rehearsal this show must have taken is truly impressive. Props to the actress who played Annie for being able to stand still, Buster Keaton style, while a set flat collapsed all around her except for the narrow doorway where she stood.

Statler and Waldorf Say…

We saw this play for my daughter’s 15th birthday, and she was vibrating with laughter for the entire show. It was the second time Sandy and I had seen it, but we laughed just as hard.

Like the classic Noises Off!, you might appreciate this more if you’ve done theater yourself. Maybe you’re kicking yourself weeks later for flubbing an entrance, but at least you weren’t forced to deliver your lines locked in a grandfather clock (one would hope).

Incidentally, this play inspired a TV show, which I shall review shortly.

FTC Full Disclosure: We paid for our own tickets for this show. I received no money or paint thinner Scotch for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.