Review of The Play That Goes Wrong at Clayton Community Theatre

    The Play That Goes Wrong is a triumph for the Clayton Community Theatre.

    The play is about a hapless theater company that tries to put on a murder mystery and fails spectacularly. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has a long history of hard luck, which continues on the opening night of its latest show, Murder at Haversham Manor.

    The first sign of trouble occurs before the mystery play begins. The stage manager, Annie, is trying to attach a mantelpiece to the fireplace. Recognizing she needs someone to hold the mantel while she drives the nails, she enlists help from the audience. The spectator is left holding the bag (or, rather, the mantel) when Annie goes off to do something else. The abandonment of the helper is typical of the madcap sight gags that pervade this comedy.

    The mystery is set in Charles Haversham’s private rooms in the manor, which are split between two levels. The action takes place on a snowy evening in 1922 at the party celebrating Charles’ engagement to Florence Colleymore.

    The staging of the mystery encounters one calamity after another. A corpse’s hand is repeatedly stepped on. The mantel and other pieces of the set keep falling down, requiring the actors to go through contortions to continue performing while compensating for the set’s failures.

    Doors and windows do not operate as they should. When a door knocks out a performer, she has to be replaced by the stage manager, who performs with a script. Annie is stage struck and resists giving up her part when the door-struck actress comes to. When the set’s upper level loses its support, the actors continue using it despite the increasing tilt. By the end, everything is in shambles.

    The show is a delight from start to finish. The only problems I could see are the ones that are supposed to be there. It must be enormously difficult to ensure that all the mishaps are entertaining for the audience and safe for the performers. Everything comes off as planned in the Clayton staging, under the meticulous direction of Tim Kelly, who is also the set designer and technical director.

    In his program note, Kelly says, “This production took more preparation than most. Every part of this set was designed and built right here (and a tiny bit in a fab shop). It took over 5 months to build and assemble with all volunteer labor.” The set falls apart as impressively as it was put together. At one end of the set is a sound and lighting booth from which the operator, Trevor, can work his mischief in full view of the audience.

    Other admirable design contributors include Nathan Schroeder (lighting), Rob Corbett (costumer and set dresser), Jacob Baxley (sound), Jadienne Nolan Davidson (props), and Jack Kalan (fight choreography).

    The following table list the excellent actors and the characters in both the framing story and the murder mystery. In order of appearance they are:

    Clayton  ActorCornley Dramatic Society RoleMystery Play Role
    Elie KlasingAnnie, the stage managerStands in for the injured Sandra
    Brad KinzelTrevor, the lighting and sound operator
    Jason MeyersChris, the directorInspector Carter
    Joey Franks IIJonathanCharies Haversham
    Jeff KargusRobertThomas Colleymore
    Jeff LovellDennisPerkins
    Michael BairdMaxCecil Haversham and Arthur
    Jennelle Gilreath OwensSandraFlorence Colleymore

    The actors’ pictures are on one of the two center pages of the program. On the opposite page are pictures of director Kelly and the crew members whose contributions are crucial to the success of the play. This tribute is richly deserved by:

    Miriam Whatleystage manager
    Betsy Gasoskeassistant director and assistant stage manager
    Amanda Winslowrun crew
    John Davidsonrun crew
    Michael Coxrun crew
    Hank Wallrun crew
    Keith Kronemerlight board operator
    Dave Bornholdtsound board operator

    The Play That Goes Wrong continues at 7:30 p.m. April 11 through 13 and 2 p.m. April 14 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by John Lamb/Dan Donovan Photography
    The set of
    The Play That Goes Wrong.