Cape Fear Regional Theatre opened its season with “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a show with London origins and an award-winning Broadway pedigree. The production opened Friday night. On Saturday night, it played before a sold-out audience.
Because of the comedy’s popularity and brilliantly hilarious performances by the CFRT cast, it likely won’t be the last time it sells out. Before you read my review, buy tickets now. Trust me.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. The Cape Fear production is directed by Laura Josepher.
Fun name, but what’s it about?
There’s been a murder at Haversham Manor! (Cue the dramatic music). The overacting and bumbling cast of the Cornley University Drama Society is just trying to get through the performance of the play “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”
The play, set in the 1920s, is the story of the death of Charles Haversham, who was murdered on the evening of his engagement party. Inspector Carter (played by Mitchell Stephens) arrives at the manor to solve the mystery and uncovers a sinister plot.
It’s supposed to be a classic whodunit murder mystery but turns into a hilarious debacle. The production is plagued by bad acting with overexaggeration, forgotten lines, drastic miscues, doors that stick, misplaced props, and a corpse who has a hard time playing dead. But the result is an outrageously good time for the audience.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” is often compared to Sherlock Holmes meets Monty Python.
But after watching it Saturday, I disagree. It’s more in the vein of the play “Clue” on a high-performance drug and the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Now fuse in the silly British humor of Python, and you’ve got “The Play That Goes Wrong.” It’s creative slapstick for sure and rapid-fire funny.
The play might go wrong, but CFRT does it right
My first thought was that it takes a good actor to pretend to be this bad. The Cape Fear cast members are playing college actors who are poorly playing their own characters. Each performer nails his or her role, and it’s easy to forget you’re watching a play within a play.
The jokes are plentiful and brilliant. When you think you’ve seen it all and it can’t get any crazier, the chaos increases. You’ll experience a new level of side-splitting laughter and fun.
If the CFRT actors had a real miscue or flubbed lines, you would never know.
The play starts with a series of laughs, then builds into a comedic frenzy that reaches the end at break-neck speed. Along the way, the plot moves faster, too, and the bits get funnier and more outrageous by the scene. By the end, I started to lose the plot, but it didn’t matter. That may have been the point: the inept cast had grossly butchered the play.
It’s an impressive performance by CFRT regulars Amber Dawn French as Sandra/Florence Colleymoore and Matthew Stuart Jackson as Dennis/Perkins.
Jackson, who looked absurd in his butler costume with highwater pants, seems made for this role as the manor’s butler, Perkins. Jackson always gets a laugh when he grossly mispronounces words and checks the palm of his hand for his lines.
Cerina E. Johnson’s character, Annie, plays the stage manager forced to take over French’s role of Florence Colleymoore mid-play because French accidentally gets knocked unconscious. When French awakens and tries to take back her role of Colleymoore, the two actresses get into several knock-down, drag-out fights, which had the audience howling.
CFRT welcomes back from New York guest Jonathan Judge-Russo as Robert/Thomas Colleymoore. You’ll remember Judge-Russo from last season’s “The Odd Couple.”
Jeff Ronan, who plays Jonathan/Charles Haversham, and Charlie Turner both made their Cape Fear debuts and knocked their performances out of the park. You’ll love Ronan’s version of Charles Haversham, whose job was to play dead — but he couldn’t stop moving.
However, it was newcomer Charlie Turner who almost stole the show Saturday with his performance of Cecil Haversham. Turner’s looks appear a perfect match for the character, sporting 1920s style clothing and slicked-back hair.
Throughout the show, Cecil loves the reactions he receives from members of the audience and increasingly hams it up to win their affection, even taking a bow after delivering lines or exiting the stage. Turner’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
The Manor, a top-notch set
The set mimics a large English-style manor with two floors and an out-of-order elevator. The vintage decor is brilliantly done by scenic director Charles Glenn Johnson and crew. As always, the CFRT set holds surprises along the way. I won’t spoil it, but I can say the set and props should be considered an actor in themselves and win MVP.
After the show, audience members filed out of the theater, many looking like they had just come off an amusement park roller-coaster. They were exuberant and laughing, trying to reconcile what they had just witnessed.
This may be the funniest play Cape Fear Regional Theatre has ever produced. I strongly suggest you don’t miss it.
I agree with CFRT’s house manager, Willie Wright, who jokingly told the audience before the show, “If this play doesn’t make you laugh, I’ll buy you breakfast in the morning.”