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Murder-mystery goes perfectly wrong

Play within a play brings laughter to First Presbyterian

First Presbyterian Theater will put on a production of The Play That Goes Wrong.

Sam Rohloff

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 10, 2022

What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about everything.

Fans of comedy and theater are invited to enjoy The Play That Goes Wrong, a wacky hit production originally produced in England.

Downtown Fort Wayne’s own First Presbyterian Theater, 300 W. Wayne St., will take its turn delivering to audiences what The New York Times deemed “a gut busting hit.”

The show will run Aug. 12- 13 and Aug. 19-20, starting at 7:30 p.m., with  Sunday matinees Aug. 14 and 21 at 2 p.m.

WHAT A FARCE

A “play within a play” is the name of the game here.

“The basic premise of the show is that we are watching an amateur theater group put on their absolute best, most well-intentioned production of a 1920s murder-mystery,” guest director Christopher J. Murphy said. “And, needless to say, things do not go according to plan for them.”

Murphy and Todd Sandman Cruz, the director of fine and performing arts for First Presbyterian Theater, elaborated more on what audiences could expect, saying the piece is a combination of amusing delight: Monty Python mixed with English playwright Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, mixed with the comedic personality of Carol Burnett. 

Many glib one-liners and hilarious slapstick gags are sure to make appearances during this farce.

The main play follows the Cornley Drama Society as they try to put on a play of their own.

“They are putting on the murder-mystery, Murder at Haversham Manor,” Cruz said. “We each play an actor who then plays a character within the play.” 

Cruz takes on the role of Jonathon, who in turn plays the role of Charles Haversham, the inner play’s tragic victim.

“Everything is literally going wrong,” Murphy said. “And so, it’s watching this group of eight actors desperately try to keep it together and desperately keep the play going in front of this live audience that they are just doing their utmost to entertain all night.”

LUCKY DISCOVERY

Murphy also shed some light on the history behind the ultra-successful comedy, explaining that struggling actors and friends Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Rob Falconer, Jonathan Sayer, Greg Tannahill, Charlie Russell, Henry Shields, and Nancy Zamit, known as the “Mischief Theatre Company,” put on their original production of The Play That Goes Wrong in a London pub in 2012.

“The right people,” as Murphy put it, happened to see the play, which eventually allowed for it to make its debut at London’s Duchess Theatre in the prestigious West End in 2014. Lightning struck again as another “right person” later attended the well-received British comedy.

Notable American movie director J.J. Abrams caught a production of the play while working on Lucasfilm’s galactic franchise sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Abrams was so impressed with what he saw that he brought the play to Broadway in 2017 and produced it himself.

Since its nascency a decade ago, the smash hit has gained rising admiration and popularity, collecting such prominent accolades as the 2015 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the 2017 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design in a Play.

AN UNANTICIPATED STAR

Stage production can plant audiences into the world of the story, or, if presented unsuccessfully, it can pull them right out. As such, this play’s set design, which took roughly five weeks to complete, holds a much bigger role than some might expect.

“The set demands are a first here at First Pres,” Cruz said, praising this particular set’s mobility and ingenuity above most others displayed by the theater in the past.

“The set is the last character in the show,” Murphy said. 

Production manager Rae Surface had a similar take on this concept. As the set’s builder and designer, she described its unique functionality and scenery: “The set itself is incredibly fundamental to the action of the play. The play is, in some ways, the set because so many things go wrong.”

Because the play relies so heavily on physical comedy, such as pratfalls, the set must be just as dynamic and strategic as the comedy presented. So, it’s safe to say that the set quite literally acts alongside the other actors.

The set is such an integral part of the production that Surface noted, “If you can’t engineer around different elements that are supposed to move and interact, you’re not going to have half the play.”

Pragmatic set design, laughter, and the continuation of the theatrical legacy will roll through the Fort. Don’t miss out on what Murphy described as “strictly a good time.”

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