Riverfront Theater Company’s Production of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ Was Almost Right

By MAC Hoover

The Play That Goes Wrong
 is a farcical murder mystery, a play within a play that was conceived and originally performed by the UK’s award-winning Mischief Theater Company. It is essentially a play about a community theater producing a play. 

Community theater can be fraught will all kinds of unexpected consequences. The Murder at Haversham Manor is no exception. The inept and accident-prone Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society embarks on producing this ambitious 1920s murder mystery. 

As directed by Steve Gallagher, Riverfront’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong is a valiant attempt at British comedy. Farce is such a challenging form of comedy to pull off for even the most experienced actors. Rather than rely on a appreciation of farce, the cast seemed to bulldoze through the physical gags. At times the actor’s voices became so shrill that the content of the dialogue was lost in translation. The cast’s enthusiasm needs to be applauded; however, they relied too much on the show’s sight gags being effective in Riverfront’s small venue. 

Of note, in this age of Covid (and this writer is a certified Covid Compliance Officer), one of the leads had a notably hoarse voice. The space is very tight, with very cramped seating. The show has a series of “spit-water” gags that I found to be overdone, visually unpleasant, and unsanitary. It would have worked better in a larger venue with a buffer between the stage and the audience. Being in the splash zone was not appreciated. 

The cast seemed to enjoy the romp; their enthusiasm was as evident as the overacting.

The audience seemed initially confused about what they were watching, was it Rivderfront’s community theater production of The Play That Goes Wrong or Cornley Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor?

The sight gags weren’t subtle, but that is indeed the charm of farce. Several sight gags did not play well, but when (if) there was an appropriate audience reaction, the show ran it into the ground with repetition. What should have been a hysterical dog gag fell short.

The set itself is a character and Jim Froehlich‘s design was properly functionally non-functional.

The costuming was curiously peculiar; perhaps the Riverfront’s Costumer Beth Spatz meant it to be that way. The house servant (a butler in the original production) wore a dress that wasn’t typical for the 20s and had no sleeves. This outfit was completed with loose hair and a butcher’s apron, which I found odd. The leading lady was also attired in atypical fashion with a modern hairstyle. The men’s costuming wasn’t as glaringly off, but men’s clothing hasn’t really varied too much. During the opening night’s performance there was a shoe malfunction with a loose insole floating about that was deftly handled. 

All in all, this production wasn’t horrible, but it just seemed off. (Perhaps the point, or not the point, of Gallagher’s staging.) Some parts were really quite good. The weird “faux” British accents sometimes blurred into Australian, so the inconsistency could be forgiven. 

A community theater company pretending to be a community theater company could have been kinder to itself. I love the heart of community theater, and I believe Riverfront’s troupe could have done better. 

Riverfront Theater Company presents ​The Play That Goes Wrong | November 10–12 & 17–19, 2022 at Allegheny RiverTrail Park | For tickets visit https://riverfront-theater-company.ticketleap.com/play-that-goes-wrong/

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1 reply

  1. Tell me you don’t understand the concept of the show without telling me you don’t understand the concept of a shelf

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