The Play That Goes Wrong is obviously doing something right

Even though I didn't laugh as much as my knee-slapping seat mates, I appreciated the craft and the commitment that went into this touring farce

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields (Mirvish/Stage Presence Ltd). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs to February 10. $29-$169. 416-872-1212, See listing. Rating: NNN

Okay, here’s the thing about farce. Yes, it’s funny to watch someone slipping on a banana peel or bumping into a post. But can you watch two hours of it?

That’s essentially the test set up by The Play That Goes Wrong, an imported comedy from the UK, which is still on in the West End and just finished a successful Broadway run. 

The premise is that we’re watching a terrible, terrible regional production of a generic murder mystery put on by the fictional Cornley University Drama Society. 

Hence, the set’s a little wobbly (faux technicians try to fix it before the show begins), the actors range from terrible over-actors (preening whenever they get a laugh, for instance) to woefully under-rehearsed and undereducated. And, well, anything can happen, especially once stage managers start replacing injured actors.

The problem with this kind of material – which is all about sight gags and not character – is maintaining momentum and interest.

Judging from the sustained laughs on opening night, this wasn’t an issue.

While I began making grocery lists in my head after the first 20 minutes, people around me – young and old – were laughing hysterically. And the standing ovation seemed genuine, not forced. 

To be sure, there’s plenty of craft to the production, especially in Nigel Hook’s Tony Award-winning set, which, managed by (unseen) technicians, works wonders, particularly in the increasingly chaotic second act. 

And Roberto Surace’s costumes send up those in every tired British drawing room mystery ever put on. 

The cast is also skilful, from Evan Alexander Smith as the show’s befuddled director and earnestly acted inspector to Jamie Ann Romero’s flirty femme fatale to Peyton Crim, whose depiction of one of those character actors in love with the sound of his own baritone voice goes beyond parody to something rather inspired. 

But you’ve got to be in the mood for something like this. And frankly, I like my comedy – even my farce – served up with a little bit more substance. Although there are glimpses of the actors’ behind-the-scenes dynamics, particularly in Ned Noyes’s obviously queer leading man, Max, the show rarely works on anything but the most superficial level. 

Still, when a comedy gets laughs, you know something’s working. This fictional play might go wrong, but the producers are obviously doing something right.

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