How many ways can a stage play go astray?
More ways than even the most hapless producer or hard-working crew or flailing actor can envision.
In “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a British import by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields — directed for Broadway by Mark Bell, directed on tour by Matt DiCarlo and now at the Golden Gate Theatre — everything can and does go spectacularly, hilariously wrong.
Before the lights dim, the production techies are already frantically trying to repair set pieces. As the play-within-a-play — a cheesy college production of an antiquated mystery drama, “The Murder at Haversham Manor” — begins, havoc continues.
Props are misplaced, missing altogether or just plain wrong; words are mangled and mispronounced; lines are scrambled, transposed or entirely forgotten; a feeble toss of shredded paper represents a ferocious snowstorm; a small fire erupts; doors won’t open, or are slammed on arms, or open unexpectedly, smacking people in the head; cues are routinely missed; guns fail to fire; actors accidentally walk into things and are knocked flat … and lots more.
Early on, you know that by the end, the entire set is going to implode, but it’s still funny every step of the way due to the playwrights’ imagination and the skills of the intrepid cast, which includes not only the actors in the whodunnit, but also the lighting and sound operator and befuddled stage manager.
The plot of “The Murder” doesn’t matter, but, if you must know, there’s an all-too-lively corpse that people keep tripping over, a two-timing fiancée who continually gets knocked unconscious, a haughty police inspector and more.
Unlike, for example, “Noises Off,” or “One Man, Two Guvnors,” there are no nuances or sophisticated wit here. It’s all about “Murder’s” stunningly incompetent actors and their pratfalls, and everything works beautifully.
The ensemble is so fine-tuned that it’s unfair to call anyone out, but I will say that my stomach hurt from laughing when the tech crew struggled to discreetly lift a comatose Jamie Ann Romero off the floor and through an upstage (broken, of course) window as the histrionic action raged in the foreground and Romero’s limbs, like a floppy Raggedy Ann doll, went every which way.
You don’t have to love slapstick to appreciate the expertise, and sheer physical bravery, on display here.
The Play That Goes Wrong
Presented by SHN
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15; 8 p.m. Aug. 16; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 17; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18
Tickets: $40 to $150
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com