“The Play That Goes Wrong” Goes Comically Right At Stockton Civic Theatre

Antonio Munoz, Joshua Kirwin, Michael Kiley, Jenna Zepponi Lehman. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
Forgotten lines, missed cues, slips and misses, bumbles and stumbles.
Everything necessary to make a play go off the rails is on exhibit in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a comedy of intentional errors now in its final week at the Stockton Civic Theatre and enjoying the word of mouth of a popular hit. 
Going wrong is all part of the fun here as a classical English murder mystery gets walloped by a spirit of  mischief and prankishness that may remind you more of the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges than Agatha Christie.
Dame Agatha would be aghast as the mystery at Haversham Manor becomes a muddle of investigation for Inspector Carter (Mike Kiley) and a cast of characters who make every mistake imaginable. The gags here never stop coming, including a corpse that isn’t as dead as it pretends and  two lovely ladies (Emily Thomas and Jenna Zepponi Lehman) whose loathing for one another accelerates into a clash that would put today’s action film heroes to shame. What other play have you seen that requires the services of a “fight choreographer”?  Thank you, Karen Vance, for showing us the humor of feminine rage.
Surprises are manifold. Keep your eye on the door that sometimes opens and sometimes prefers not to, a wandering spotlight that can’t seem to find its subject, and a wall that keeps collapsing to the consternation of actors trying to deal with its untimely intrusion.
Parker Rose, Joshua Kirwin, Antonio Munoz. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
Is this any way to stage a murder mystery?
Sure is, if you are more interested in laughs than a neat and orderly package of suspects, clues and deductions in the best English tradition. Not that the English themselves objected to the chaos. The play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, premiered in London in 2012, drew delighted crowds and won the Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy of the year. It has continued to amaze and amuse audiences on this side of the Atlantic since arriving on Broadway in 2017.
Expect the unexpected. The mayhem begins with a stage crew struggling to repair something that seems immune to repair. Can the play begin if the  crew is stymied? Will intermission begin even before the play does? Don’t be deceived. The play has already started.
Nothing here goes quite right and none of its flawed participants seem able to correct the catalogue of wrongs. If this keeps up, you may ask yourself, how can anyone hope to solve the murder at Haversham (unless the name of the manor is itself a clue that reads “have a sham”).
Under the direction of stage master Dennis Beasley,  the play may surprise members of the audience who thought their ticket was purchasing an evening of quiet, polished, well-behaved and entirely logical theatre. But once the audience catches on to the game without rules, the laughs begin—and continue. As the chuckling gent in the seat ahead of mine told me, “I don’t know who did what to whom, but I like it.” 
Antonio Munoz, Drew Guerrero, Jenna Zepponi Lehman, Christopher Perez. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
Everyone’s a suspect here, so get out your magnifying glass, put on your Sherlockian deerstalker or Sam Spade fedora, and don’t rule out anyone—not even the proper butler (Josh Kirwin) or the inspector himself. In a play this wacky, you just never know.
If the nonstop nonsense of “The Play That Goes Wrong” makes your head swim, take your intermission break at the lobby bar where you can consider the merits of “Blood and Sand,” the house cocktail special whose title seems to have been lifted from a Hemingway bullfighting story. It consists of blended Scotch, cherry liqueur, sweet Vermouth, and orange juice ($10). You can couple it with the “Everything But The Kitchen Sink” cookie, a mixture of potato chips, pretzels, caramel bits, M&Ms and chocolate chips.($3). You can bet your grandmother never made anything like this. Depending on your taste, you can classify the “Everything But” as either a fascinatingly clever or exceedingly contrived cookie.
 Act two continues the frolicsome farce of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” with some moments convincing you it can’t possibly get more silly. Trust the cast and crew to make it sillier.  All to the good if you need the blessing of laughter to brighten your day in these dark times.  
Parker Rose, Emily Thomas. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
If an authentic, brain-challenging and period piece plot a la Agatha Christie is what you’re hankering for, Stockton Civic Theatre will satisfy your craving come January with “Murder on the Orient Express.” Detective Hercule Poirot returns to action, putting his investigative powers to the test in this mystery of an affluent and devious American murdered in the compartment of a luxurious train. Whodunnit? A  cast of suspects with secrets are waiting to stump the brilliant Belgian sleuth. The detective is more than capable, of course, but you may wonder how the SCT stage crew can possibly get a train on stage. My guess is it will not be a problem for a theatre that can make so right a play that goes so wrong.
The Play That Goes Wrong
Stockton Civic Theatre
2312 Rosemarie Lane
Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Adults $29  Seniors $24  Students $17
Box office:(209) 473-2424
Business office (209) 473-2400  

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One Comment

  • Looking forward to seeing it at end of the month. Should be entertaining with that talented cast and director! Love the review and hope you had a Happy Father’s Day at the show!🎭

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