Recently, my wife and I re-watched the entire run of "Frasier." We did this not just because of the urbane wit and sheer animal magnetism of Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce, but to help escape from the tumult of 2018 through farcical ’90s humor that was aggressively apolitical.
"The Play That Goes Wrong" reminds me of "Frasier" in all the right ways.
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the British comedic theater ensemble Mischief Theatre, "The Play That Goes Wrong" originated in London before opening on Broadway in 2017. The first U.S. national tour of the show (directed by Matt Dicarlo based on the original Broadway direction of Mark Bell, and playing through Oct. 28 at Bass Concert Hall) continues the tradition of slapstick humor and zany antics, providing a refreshing blast of pure, hilarious, escapist entertainment.
RELATED: Broadway in Austin season kicks off with comedy
The conceit of "The Play That Goes Wrong" is rather simple: The fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is mounting a production of a 1920s murder mystery play entitled "The Murder at Haversham Manor," and we are there to witness their opening night. As the title suggests, though, nothing goes quite according to plan. Just as the actors appear unprepared for a public performance, the backstage crew are having endless problems, leading to missing props, ill-timed entrances, and a set falling apart around everyone’s ears.
For a show as farcical and slapstick as this to work, the cast must be pitch-perfect in their timing, and fortunately that is the case with the touring company. Each performer fully commits to every gag, no matter how silly or hammy it gets. Even when a scene calls upon a particular actor to upstage the rest of the action, the company works as a seamless unit to milk the biggest laugh possible.
The standout star of the production, though, is the set itself, designed by Nigel Hook. There is a staggering amount of precision to the way that the scenery appears to haphazardly fall apart, and Hook’s work (and, of course, that of the real backstage crew) is a true marvel to behold. It takes clockwork accuracy to make everything go so wrong, after all.
In the end, "The Play That Goes Wrong" is a show that has no message, no pathos, and no desire to accurately represent the human condition. It is, rather, an engine to make the audience laugh from beginning to end, and at this it succeeds wonderfully.