Review: “The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong” in Santa Rosa

Play titles don’t get more succinct than The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong. You get both an approximate run time and a plot synopsis in six simple words. It’s an abridged version of The Play That Goes Wrong, which was itself expanded from its original one-act roots after becoming a hit in London where it continues to run today. Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre has a production running through Nov. 20.

It’s opening night for the budget-constrained Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of Susie H. K. Brideswell’s Murder at Haversham Place, a 1920’s murder mystery a la Agatha Christie. The crew scurries around the stage making last-second fixes to the scenery and prop placement. The lights go down, and then they come up (too soon) as an actor attempts to get in place as the murder victim. It’s all comedically-downhill from there.

Charles Haversham (Andrew Patton) has been murdered, and there is no shortage of suspects for the Police Inspector (Michael Girts) to interrogate. Was it Charles’s fiancée Florence (Allie Nordby)? His brother Cecil (Skylar Evans)? His at-one-time brother-in-law-to-be Thomas (Izaak Heath)? Or might this be the one time where the butler (Larry Williams) actually did it?

The game’s afoot as the cast gamely marches on despite every possible thing that can go wrong going wrong. Scenery mishaps, misplaced props, bobbled lines, an inebriated tech operator (Reilly Milton), and a stage-shy (then stage struck) stage manager (Denise Elia-Yen) are all obstacles to be overcome in honor of the age-old idiom that the show must go on!

Most of the cast of The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong

And go on it does, for a relatively brief 60-plus minutes. Timing is everything in comedy, and this show moves fast. It doesn’t hurt to have some knowledge of the stage world to appreciate a lot of the humor, but there’s enough physical and verbal comedy at play to make the show accessible to anyone. Some bits missed, but the ratio of hits-to-misses is pretty high.

In his director’s notes, David L. Yen comments on the second-tier status often given to comedy in discussions of “real” theatre despite the unique skill set required to do it well. If the laughter emanating from the mid-week audience in attendance at a recent performance is any meter, his cast has that required skill set.

Another skill set that the actors and, quite frankly, the audiences at The California will need to acquire is the ability to ignore the live music and vocals that come pounding through the building from an abutting venue. Four death metal bands provided the screeching soundtrack for the show I attended. While laughter drowned some of it out, this type of distraction could be a real challenge for future, more serious productions.

Left Edge Theatre’s ‘The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong’ runs through November 20 at The California Theatre. 528 7th Street, Santa Rosa. Thu – Sat, 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $15–$40. 707.536.1620.

Photos by Eric Chazankin

This review appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

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