The Play That Goes Wrong Gets it Right

By Sam Pynes

The Play That Goes Wrong, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Wednesday May 3, 2023 7:30PM

Dear Mr. Editor, I am so sorry that this review is so late. I hope I catch you before you go to print. Please cut this part out. I tripped over a dog outside the theater last night which made it mad and it chased me up encouraged me to climb a fence in the alley behind the theater. I was able to trap the dog behind some trashcans – I don’t know what it was doing in front of the theater anyway! It’s almost like it was trying to get in, so I probably saved the people inside. My shirt got caught in the chainlink and by the time I ripped it off extracted myself the door to the theater was locked. Since I really need this job, I climbed up the fire escape so I could watch the play through the upper story window. I think I missed part of the first act because I didn’t realize that the guy brushing his teeth wasn’t part of the play until he started yelling at me which startled me so much that I fell and woke up during intermission in the dumpster. 

I think it was a murder mystery because some of the people in the program I found in the dumpster weren’t in most of the second act, but it was a little hard to hear through the window. It was really good and people should go see it and you should pay me. The nurse is telling me that one of my legs might be slightly shorter than the other once it heals, but they must have given me something for the pain because I feel fine.



Seriously, though!

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields and premiering in London over a decade ago, The Play that Goes Wrong has spawned a Broadway run, a tour, a TV show, and a sequel show, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, currently featuring Neil Patrick Harris on Broadway. 

After seeing the West End cast perform a bit of the play on youtube in 2015 for Royal Variety for charity, this has been high on my list of plays to see. Unfortunately I missed the tour that came through Omaha back in 2018 so I was pleased to see that Nebraska Repertory Theatre had taken up the challenge for this season! And what a challenge! From the sometimes comically repetitive script, to the complex set and prop gags and pratfalls, this show certainly requires a commitment to precision. All this on top of the hat-on-a-hat effort of acting badly, or rather acting so well that you believably play a character who is acting badly, and in a way that is funny. Bravo!

If you caught NCP’s Noises Off, you know how funny this self-referencial theatrical subgenre can be. The Mystery Comedy Murders of 1940 opening this Friday at LCP shares similar themes of actors trying their best amid mayhem and murder.

Even before things start to ‘go wrong’ the audience is invited into the world of the Cornley University Drama Society as the stage manager attempts to repair parts of the beautiful set and the assistant stage manager searches the theater for a lost dog and beloved Duran Duran boxset.

The ‘director,’ Christopher Hemsworth (not that Hemsworth) Paddlemore, III,(Rafael Untalan) begins by welcoming the audience to his directorial “dayboo” and thanking them for their patronage through financially challenging times that have required them to amend their prior shows to fit their budget. The drama society is opening a 1920’s style murder mystery and the subsequent set challenges foreshadow the compounding errors that tear the production hilariously apart.

As the show and ‘play’ begins, one notices the beautiful 20’s set, complete with art nouveau wallpaper and tall bookshelves. It doesn’t stay that way.

This is a show full of props, set-gags, and stunts which are so tight and well-executed that it is hard to believe that some of them weren’t actually painful! 

Ren DeFor stole the show as Annie the Stage Manager and I am amazed that they are a first year student in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. They aren’t the only freshman appearing, with Oz Powell giving such a natural performance that I would gladly return to see him in dramatic roles as well. I also especially appreciated Tom Frye’s understated performance as Dennis (playing ‘Perkins’), an actor who tries to adjust as he goes, checking his cue cards for those hard-to-pronouce words!

The show was clearly thoroughly rehearsed and confidently performed, and the entire company had individual moments that threw the audience into stitches. 

I’d hate to give too much away but there were so many golden moments of lines coming out in the wrong order or offset, character realizations that things are not going as planned, and attempts to fix the problems that create more problems as they compound into chaos.

I had the feeling that perhaps with more distinct characterization in parts, and a livelier pacing in some key moments they could dial in the comedy even more effectively. As it is, the show is precise and funny and will only get tighter and funnier as it runs. ‘Bad’ theatre was never so good! Go see this hilarious trainwreck of a show while you can!

If you go: The Play That Goes Wrong runs in the Howell Theatre in the UNL Temple Building at May 3-6 at 7:30PM and May 7th at 2PM. Tickets may be purchased at Adult, $40, UNL Faculty/Staff $35, Student/OLLI $15.

Sam Pynes is an actor, writer, and story enthusiast. Mostly harmless. Current Managing Editor of Appearing Locally.

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