Theatre Reviews
Photo by Dan Donovan and John Lamb courtesy of Clayton Community Theatre

The plot of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” presented by the Clayton Community Theatre through April 14,  is the type that would require more than half of this review to fully describe its convolutions. At the highest level, it’s farcical sendup of the now-clichéd Agatha Christie-type whodunits against a play-within-a-play (“The Murder at Haversham Manor”) that’s beset with escalating challenges ranging from minor mishaps to full-blown calamities. It portrays the earnest but disastrous attempts of the Cornley Polytechnic amateur dramatic society as they stumble through a clumsy rendition of a 1920s murder mystery. With atrocious acting and a shoddy script, chaos reigns supreme on stage, and therein lies its charm.

The title accurately describes what you can expect: a compendium of theatrical mishaps including, but not limited to, stubbornly sealed doors, impeccably timed falling sets, props mysteriously vanishing or materializing in the wrong spots, actors breaking character amidst a sea of laughter and performances graced by heroically inept performers. It’s no spoiler alert to tell you that by play’s end, almost none of the set and not many of the characters are left standing. The climactic scene includes an impressive Buston Keaton homage.

 A better way to describe “The Play That Goes Wrong” is to note that it shares a meta-ness sensibility about itself like the “Scream” and “Knives Out” movies. It also shares some theatrical DNA with Michael Frayn's "Noises Off,” which delves into a far more intricate and multi-dimensional exploration of the pandemonium that erupts when backstage dynamics and colossal egos spill over onto the stage. “The Play That Goes Wrong” also shares some of the vibes emanating from the movie “Jumanji, ”Dr. Seuss’ “Cat In the Hat” and even the Marx Brothers and Keystone Kops.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is an ambitious play, especially for community theater. Clayton Community Theatre proves to be more than up the challenge of staging this script. Under the direction of Tim Kelly, who is also responsible for the set design and tech direction, the chaos unfolds with precise timing and delivers a rollercoaster of slapstick laughter. From the moment the curtain rises on Kelly’s ingeniously dilapidated set, it effectively makes use of its small stage. Rob Corbett, the costumer, draped the characters with effective, period-appropriate wardrobes that also had to undergo malfunctions along with the props and stage. I was especially envious of the knee-high argyle socks worn by Jeff Kargus, who played dual roles as Robert and Thomas Colleymore with cheeky and mischievous aplomb.

The cast navigates the pitfalls of the crumbling stage with expert precision, delivering exaggerated performances filled with gleeful abandon. Jason Meyers shines as the bumbling director Chris Bean, whose attempts to salvage the production only serve to exacerbate the mayhem.

Equally strong performances from Elle Klasing, Brad Kinzel, Jeff Lovell, Michael Baird and Jennell Gilreath Owens collectively and individually drive the mayhem forward. They delivered their expressions and physical comedy with the precision of a well-oiled machine. Especially delightful was the extended series of antics between Klasing as Annie and Owens as Florence Colleymore in the second half as they battle for stage time.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" is a testament to the power of farce and slapstick comedy, a term I am loathe to use because it belies the how seriously difficult it can be to pull off effectively. On opening night, there were some minor dialogue slips, and the entire production could have been delivered at a quicker pace. The strength of a play like this lies in rapid-fire comedy, so that if you don’t like one bit there’s another quick on its heels that may tickle you better. Before it became the worldwide juggernaut with productions worldwide, this British import by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry shields began its life at a pub theater north of London. I could imagine the need to keep things lively in that setting in order to avoid dodging beer bottles if things got draggy.

Whether you’re a fan of slapstick comedy or simply in need of a good laugh, this production will leave you at least grinning. It’s also a great value and family friendly. Like a controlled demolition, "The Play That Goes Wrong" revels in its own destruction, providing an opportunity to escape into a world in which disorder reigns supreme.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” runs through April 14 at Clayton Community Theatre. For tickets and information, visit

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