In case you're wondering, farce is very much alive. Traipse to the Hobby – one does not walk to a farce – and exercise your funny bone with The Play that Goes Wrong. It's a workout.
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, all founding members of England's Mischief Theatre, known for its anarchic comedy shows, this is a farce of a farce. Thanks to Broadway at the Hobby, we're being entertained by the Dramatic Society of Cornley University in their touring production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, a country estate murder mystery by Agatha Christie wanna-be Susie H.K. Brideswell. She's done her homework extremely well, it's the Dramatic Society that needs work.
Brilliantly laid out in the Playbill in faux credits before the show's actual credits, you will notice that Chris Bean, the president of the Society, not only plays the lead role of Inspector Carter, but has also designed the set and costumes, made its props, is the box office manager, the press and PR director, the dramaturge, the voice and dialect coach, the fight choreographer, and still had time to play the rehearsal role of Mr. Fitzroy. There's also an ad for Robert Grove's School for Acting Perfectly. (Mr. Grove plays the plummy aristocratic Thomas Colleymoore in Murder). His four approved skills that he will teach you: Reacting, Gesturing, Emotioning, and Acting. He can be reached via Twitter @RobertGoodActor.
There's also a helpful guide for words to use when describing the show. The good: awesome, important, proportionate, like-a-warm-bath. The bad: Excreting, perspiring, impotent, icky, and vomit.
If you find this type of humor inspiring – and the audience at the Hobby never stopped roaring at the hilarity on stage – then this comedy is the perfect antidote for what ails you. How can you possibly think of anything depressing in your life when you're guffawing your head off. The doctor is in with a vengeance.
The mayhem is non-stop: when doors fling open, they slam characters into comas; when pieces of the set fall off the flats, they drop with pinpoint precision and timing; when the actors are indisposed, the stage crew goes on in their place. Cues are missed, misplaced, or forgotten; the set has a demonic, comic life of its own; the hammy “actors” are woefully inadequate, yet keep plodding forward when everything around them goes disastrously awry.
The mistakes ratchet up exponentially and, when gags invariably repeat, they only become funnier with each repetition. Eventually, the frantic pace takes a toll, and the effervescent fizz dissipates just a bit near the end, but there's a surprising coup de theatre that enlivens anew. (Scenic designer Nigel Hook won deserved Tony and Drama Desk awards for his crumbling jack-in-the-box set.)
In the comedy's most endearing sequence, Mr. Bean (Evan Alexander Smith) addresses the audience at the start of Act II. Obsequious and trying awfully hard to excuse what his company has just done, he rebukes us for laughing. “Why are you laughing,” he asks in futility. We laugh at him. He implores a second time. We laugh again, only louder. “Stop laughing,” he screams. And, of course, we laugh hardest of all.
This is the heart of farce. It's a wondrously silly mix of humiliation, pricking the prig, tweaking the nose, and a little seltzer down the pants. There's no social redemption, no deep meaning, no intellectual pursuit, except to get a laugh. Smith and his troupe of zanies (Scott Cote, Peyton Krim, Brandon J. Ellis, Angela Grovey, Ned Noyes, Jamie Ann Romero, Yaegel T. Welch) leave us in stitches, whether we want to or not. What else can we do in the face of such meticulously plotted inanity? Go, laugh.
The Play That Goes Wrong continues through March 31 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $26-$110.