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CPH’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ is not just wrong it is just right




The Cleveland Playhouse production of Henry Lewis’, Henry Shields’ and Jonathan Sayer’s “The Play That Goes Wrong” really knows how to set up their merriment for the audience. Well before the curtain rises and as the audience members get comfortable in their seats they begin thumbing through the program. It is in effect “The Program That Goes Wrong” and by itself it is hilarious. In this mock version of a proof copy “accidentally” released, there are post-it notes, hilarious actor bios, funny head shots, a dog with extensive and impressive theater and screen credits (he also has the best photo), and a tech speaking out about his “dead end” theater career and an ad for his band’s CD. It is all laugh out loud funny and the show has not even begun.


The Cornley Drama Society (known for their budget conscience productions of “CAT”, “James, Where Is Your Peach” and “The Two Sisters” has undertaken an ambitious production of “The Murder At Haversham Manor: A Mystery In Two Acts”. Even before the show commences there is trouble afoot in the form of a tricky fireplace mantel and a stuck door. An audience member is recruited to assist. Members of the cast also comb the audience (including the balcony) looking for an escaped dog. As the curtain finally rolls up, the “victim” is seen on the floor in various death poses until finally alighting on the couch.


Charles Haversham (Johathan Harris) (Jeffrey Marc Alkins) has died...more to the point he has been murdered in a locked room. Inspector Carter (Chris Bean) (Michael Doherty) has been called to solve the case in the midst of a blizzard. Suspects include Thomas Colleymoore (Robert Grove) (Blake Henry), an old school chum, Florence Colleymoore (Sandra Wilkinson) (Victoria Alev Duffy), Thomas’ sister and Charles’ fiance, Perkins (Dennis Tyde) (Ben Liebert), the butler, Cecil Havisham (Max Bennet) (Alfredo Ruiz), Charles brother and Arthur (Max Bennet) (Alfredo Ruiz), the manor’s gardener. (Note: Actual Actor’s name is listed second).


Over the course of the investigation it is learned that Florence and Cecil are having an affair, Perkins is the sole beneficiary of the will, Thomas and the Inspector are in cahoots and Arthur is a witness to some outdoor activity. As the play proceeds various parts of the set begin to self destruct as the mantel tumbles off the wall as well as a collection of various clothes hooks, paintings, voice tubes, drapes and the coat of arms.


Props are misused including a bottle of Scotch that has been replaced by a poisonous liquid (to be liberally sprayed from the various actor’s mouths). Also a pencil, a notepad, vase and keys go missing or are misappropriated. The elevator leading to the upstairs study routinely malfunctions in a puff of smoke and shorting wires and eventually the entire upstairs study collapses turning into a large slide.


Through it all the actors shoulder on in spite of members being knocked completely unconscious (and dragged off stage and replaced by crew members), falling debris, wrong pronunciations of words, a repeated scene loop that the actors cannot escape from and a missing runaway dog. At the finale the case is solved as final parts of the set drop hither and tither.


This wildly comedic farce owes its strength to the impeccable timing of the actors and crew. It is one of the most challenging comedies of our times to pull off and Cleveland Play House has done it with great skill and aplomb. Chris Bean as the Director and Inspector Carter begins the festivities with a hilarious opening monologue and carries the comic feel throughout the performance. Johathan Harris as Charles Haversham is hilarious as the murder “victim” as he is stepped on, dropped and otherwise abused in the course of the play. He is also hilarious as a ghost exiting the stage. Robert Grove as Thomas plays the put upon thespian just trying to survive the production with a combination of frustration and outright fear.


Dennis Tyde as Perkins is superbly cast as the butler who has crib notes on his gloves which he uses to comically mangle the pronunciation of various words. Sandra Wilkinson is over the top as the vivacious Florence Colleymoore as she attempts to out talk everyone. Max Bennet as Cecil Haversham and Arthur the gardener hams it up on stage much to the chagrin of his fellows. His work with the fake Winston (the guard dog) on a string is priceless. Trever Watson and Annie Twilloil serve as the stage crew and stage manager respectfully as their hard work slowly becomes undone with each passing moment.


The show is expertly directed by Melissa Rain Anderson with Jason Paul Tate as fight and stunt director. The slowly demolishing scenic design is the work of Czerton Lim with costumes by Lauren T. Roark. A fine job is done with the difficult lighting assignment by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz and original sound design and music is the work of Lindsay Jones. Lastly the wig and hair designs are by J. Jared Janas.


Even if you have seen this work before, it is well worth seeing the Cleveland Play House version of this comic classic. The production values are top-notch, the comedy is spot on and the physical funny aspects are a work of art. It is a comic farce that will have you laughing all the way home. Share in the delight!


The Cleveland Play House production of “The Play That Goes Wrong” will be on stage in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland, Ohio through March 3, 2024. For more information and to order tickets go to https://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/ or call (216) 241-6000.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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