Filled with murder, disaster, sword fighting and calamitous on-stage fiascos—The Play That Goes Wrong is an outrageous mystery thriller with conniving missteps by a cast who leaves the audiences laughing and questioning what is.
Absolutely everything that could go wrong does in this production performed by the San Jose Stage Company, and that is precisely the point. This production stars Maggie Mason, Johnny Moreno, Sean Okuniewicz, Keith Pinto, Will Springhorn Jr., Jonathan Rhys Williams, Nick Manadracchia and Vivienne Truong.
As a dead man dies, he fails to stay dead. A murder leads to another murder. The two-act comedy is described as “a whimsical whodunnit with pranks and hijinks to amuse and perplex.”
A full-house opening on Nov. 18 had audience members reeling with delight at the antics of a play where absolutely nothing goes as planned to the eye of the audience. Where an avid theater fan can expect flawless and perfect scenes in such productions as Othello (which several cast members previously performed in), this play-within-a-play offers the opposite in an inviting and attractive display of ludicrousness.
The story is set as a production company putting on a performance called The Murder at Haversham Manor sometime in the 1920s, inside a Gatsby-like mansion with the drinking and the suits and the flapper dresses…and all that outrageous partying.
“This is not improvisation!,” Jonathan Rhys Williams (as Inspector Carter) exclaimed while sternly and gravely addressing a beguiled heckler opening night, expertly diverting attention back to his ironically improvised monologue and directly back on scene. The Inspector, much like his other colleagues, is projecting his real voice with his muscles at the crowd, without much microphone assistance.
Up close and personal, the Inspector’s British accent and accusatory tone is jarring and compelling in this moment.
“If you wanted that you could go see Spongebob: The Musical!,” he proclaimed.
The crowd laughed and offered polite and spirited applause.
The intimate San Jose Stage theater puts the audience right in the action, much like an ancient Greek or Roman amphitheater. Seating a several hundred-capacity in the house per night, the Stage employs more than 150 local artists and sells around 30,000 seats annually. The company produced over 200 productions to date.
For this play, there are fist fights, a fencing battle and armed standoffs in this plight to bring an unknown killer to justice. Everything on the stage that looks nailed, bolted or secured is likely to break, smash, fall, be taken away or lost. And more than one person will be knocked unconscious throughout the night. (The production company also warned patrons of the suspected possible contamination of salted nuts at the snack bar, which led to a featured on-stage vomit, but more details were not immediately available.)
But who is the true killer? Who murdered Charles Haversham? And who else will have to die?
For those daring to find out more, the play will be running through Dec. 17.
The Play That Goes Wrong
San Jose Stage Company
Thru Dec. 17