Saturday, March 25, 2023
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The Play That Goes Wrong and Present Laughter reviewed

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Two shows have recently opened on Broadway. Both are very funny. Both are completely different. They are THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG and PRESENT LAUGHTER. I recommend both – highly - and for different reasons.

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is an unbridled ridiculous farce in the extreme. Pushing the boundaries of logic with slapstick, physical dexterity and outrageous shenanigans as the Cornley University Drama Society attempts to stage The Murder at Haversham Manor without a single mishap. Lucky for us anything that can go wrong does – and more.

There are no well-known stars. Not yet. The entire company from across the pond excels in this type of farcical humor. Especially Dave Hearn portraying Max portraying Cecil Haversham in this play within a play - a riotous rendition of an Agatha Christie type mystery.

From the onset when cast members search the audience for a missing dog and recruit someone to help put the finishing touches on the set we are at their mercy.

If you love to laugh. If you hate to laugh. If you haven’t laughed in ages. If you have a weak heart. Stay home. Otherwise race to the Lyceum Theatre immediately.

It’s not the words by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields that the actors speak but the actions directed with marksmanship precision by Mark Bell that makes every bone in your body a funny bone go a-twitter with the mishaps that befall this troupe of superbly bad actors.

The self-destructing set by Nigel Hook is one if not the best of the season. The dog is never found but his leash becomes just another hysterical bit of business. It’s a non-stop treadmill of guffaw inducing nuttiness. And no stunt doubles!

I will admit that the paint thinner replacing whiskey is a bit much.

2 hours – a gazillion laughs - one intermission

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Now onto the sublime PRESENT LAUGHTER starring the most welcome return of Kevin Kline to the New York stage written by that wit of wits Noel Coward who originally played the role in 1942.

This is a relic that has been given a breath of fresh air and life with its brilliant casting and quick paced direction by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel in the too large venue called the St. James Theatre.

Lots of exposition to get through before it really takes off. However it breezes along nicely with Kevin Kline as the egocentric and aging lothario who is a terrified of being alone star - with charisma and kisses to spare - Garry Essendine looking dapper in his silks and checking himself out often in the mirrors that are omnipresent preparing for his African tour to escape the lot of them. Little does he know…

His producer Henry Lyppiatt (Peter Francis James) and his wife Joanna (a seductive and ultra- chic Cobie Smulders) who has her eyes set on her next conquest – Garry Essendine) and his best friend a besotted Reg Rogers as Morris who is having an affair with Joanna.

He is properly taken care of by his almost ex-wife – a superb Kate Burton looking properly chic in costumes by Susan Hilferty and his used-to-his lifestyle secretary Monica – a scene stealing Kristine Nielsen.

There is a dedicated valet (Matt Bittner) A cigarette hanging from her mouth maid Miss Erikson (Ellen Harvey) a would be manic playwright with a forceful handshake (Bhavesh Patel) and a young would be actress Daphne Stillington (Tedra Millan) who starts this comedy off pretending to have lost the key to her flat so that she conveniently gets to stay over with Essendine.

There are many laughs but it is not until the farcical elements take hold in Act II that hilarity truly ensues. But not to the extent of the above mentioned inane THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG.

Here we have a plot and more developed characters and most importantly the words and wit of Noel Coward. Some physical humor of which Kline is King. With just one look he says a thousand words in this two act comedy that takes place in London 1939 and still holds up in 2017. That says it all.

These two plays offer a respite from our dreary most difficult times and are cause for great laughter on the Great White Way. Please do attend. Put a lot of laughter in your life, try one or better yet both.

The set by David Zinn does not self-destruct. It remains intact as a lovely backdrop for the period costumes by Susan Hilferty and the many entrances and exits of the terrific ensemble assembled.

2 hours 30 minutes one intermission. Through July 2nd.