The Play That Goes Wrong does exactly what it says on the tin: it goes very, very wrong. Everyone has a story or two about something going wrong in a live performance, whether it’s a misplaced prop or a misfired gun; it’s part of the fun of live performance! Imagine if every one of those stories, plus a few you’ve never imagined, all happened in the same performance of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, and there you have The Play That Goes Wrong.
The play opens before it opens with stagehands wandering around the set attempting to get everything in place for the show. A mantlepiece falls repeatedly; an upstage door refuses to shut; a hammer flies apart mid-use. These small actions portend the much bigger disasters to come, and they’re an effective tool for immersing the audience in the bonkers world of the play. And it is truly bonkers: everything from the actors (Dennis can’t pronounce many of the show’s more difficult words correctly, while Max can’t stop cheesing to the audience) to the props (never where they belong) to the special effects (painfully bad stage blood and bits of thrown paper as snow) is turned up to the maximum on ridiculousness.
The real masterpiece of the play, however, is the set, designed by Nigel Hook. Pieces large and small need to fall apart at exactly the right moment for any of the play’s comedy to work, and they do so with artful precision. The ensemble of Chicago actors is another strong element of the production. All the actors have flawless comedic timing and a strong sense of physicality, both of which are essential to the success of the play. Particular favorites include Ernaisja Curry, who is hilarious as unlikely actor Annie; Joseph Anthony Bird, who makes for a remarkably funny dead body; Jarred Webb, who is utterly charming as ham Max; and Jonah D. Winston, who infuses what could be an unremarkable character with passion and enthusiasm that makes Robert completely engaging.
While the essence of the play is slapstick insanity, there is something deeply human underneath it; after all, the characters are all doing their best to cope with an onslaught of unexpectedly terrible situations, all piling up to create an overwhelming whole. Yet the characters struggle on, determined that the show must go on against all odds. It’s oddly resonant in these strange times we live in. The Show That Must Go Wrong is a remarkable delight, and it would be a shame to miss it.
Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Tickets: On sale now through January 30 at https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel.