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There’s Nothing Wrong About the Play that Goes Wrong

Words by Adam Stillwell.

Images by Josh Stubbs, courtesy of the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach.

Something special is happening near the Oceanfront. The Little Theatre of Virginia Beach presents The Play That Goes Wrong. This production is a very successful broadway play that originally premiered in 2012. The authors are Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. The production received a Laurence Olivier Award in 2015 for Best New Comedy and a Tony Award in 2017 for Best Scenic Design of a Play. The local production at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach is an ambitious endeavor directed by Jeff Seneca and produced by Maris Smith.

There have been many stage productions that have the theme of “A Play Within a Play” but out of all the ones that I have seen, this version is the most surreal and well executed. In the production, the performers are inundated with disaster after disaster, as set pieces collapse or fail to work properly, wall hangings drop to the floor, and props are lost or misplaced. The performers themselves get in the way of their own production as they are subject to injury, missing cues, forgetting lines, mugging to the audience, and trying to compete with each other for attention. The backstage crew also takes an active role in the shenanigans, adding to the chaos. In other words, everything goes wrong.

I have to say, the casting of this local production and the set design is the best that I have seen in a long time. I have not yet encountered any of the cast members personally to my recollection, so these were all new faces to me. The cast had an uncanny resemblance to the Broadway cast, and were all as professional as any actual Broadway production. It did not have the feeling of a typical community theater production, The quality of this show was top-notch.

Stand out cast members include David Haymes portraying Robert Grovẻ… who portrays Thomas Collymoore (Yes, it’s very confusing). His physicality and stage presence drives the show, in my opinion. Jennifer Merrick portrayed Annie the Stage Manager, who became uncontrollably wrapped up in the production when she was called in to stand in for the female lead. Comedy or not, you witness an impressive evolution of this character throughout the show, and Jennifer presented the transition seamlessly. Carson Cooper has a natural talent for comedy, and reminds me of a younger Jim Carey. My absolute favorite in this production would be Phillip Banks, who plays Trevor, the stage hand and sound technician. Cool, calm and collected, he had the audience wrapped around his finger with his charismatic performance.

The other star of the show was the set. Designed by Mike Hilton and George Horvath, the gags produced by the environment were executed with precision. In The Play that Goes Wrong, it would be difficult for one to recognise if something ever actually went wrong in reality. As far as I could tell, everything regarding the set went off without a hitch. This means that everything went wrong in exactly the way that it was intended.

The performers put themselves in very real danger for the sake of the gags. The ability to execute these stunts safely requires what equates to choreography. Miguel Girona is one of the most experienced Stage Combat coordinators that I have worked with. Miguel and Jennifer Merrick worked together to create a very comical fight sequence between the Lead Actress portrayed by Cassidy Corbett and Jennifer portraying the Stage Hand. It was one of the highlights of the show.

I have very little to say about this show that could be considered negative. If anything was less than pleasant, it had nothing to do with the performance itself. There was a significantly long preshow, where the characters are making last minute repairs and changes to the lighting and the set. This was very entertaining, but it was disrupted on several occasions by the theater crew seating people and talking loudly in the process. I want to point out that this was a minor inconvenience and did not take away from the experience. There were also a few times when the cast could have paused a few seconds longer for the laughter of the audience. I understand that pacing is important, but some of the dialogue was difficult to hear over the laughter. I suppose the cast could take this complaint as a compliment.

The performers in this show could be considered by some as character actors. I disagree. I feel that anybody who has the chops for comedy has the skill to play just about any role. This is a versatility that is hard to come by. I can safely say that each of the cast members, backstage crew included, are equipped with this versatility, and superior comedic timing.

The Play that Goes Wrong runs from September 15th to October 8th, 2023 at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach. If I haven’t made myself clear, go see this show.

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