by Beki Pineda

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG – Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields; Directed by Matt DiCarlo. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through March 17. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Well, I expected this to be funny – but not this funny. I was literally laughing so hard, I was choking. Tears running down my cheeks choking! Anyone who has ever seen a play, been in a play, worked on a play or even those for whom this is a first theatrical experience will all love this performance. It is crazy, exhilarating madcap mayhem.This amazing trio of playwrights are members of Mischief Theatre formed by a group of classmates from LAMDA in 2008. Take note, Denver producers – they have written four or five more plays of a similar note that have not been done in Denver before and have a new script – GROAN UPS – coming to the West End this fall.

It is impossible to describe the convoluted plot of this wild party, but the story is not what makes it fun in the first place. It’s what they do with it. Basically, a very amateur Dramatic Society are attempting to present a murder mystery from the 1920’s on tour. While each of the faux actors are very impressed with their acting abilities, in truth they are stilted posturing hambones. Their ineptitude and “emoting” are the source of much laughter – made even funnier by the truly gifted real actors playing the faux actors. The audience knows from the beginning that it is all tongue in cheek and are in on the joke.

The fun even begins before the lights go down. Stage Manager Annie (Angela Grovey) bustles around the stage setting props, “fixing” a door that won’t stay shut, trying to hammer a mantle in place for the fireplace (with the help of an audience member) – all the while hiding her face behind her hands so the audience “can’t see her.” The Sound and Light Board operator Max (Brandon Ellis) tries to help, gets in the way, flirts with the ladies in the audience and looks for his lost Duran Duran CD. The audience immediately enters into the fun and realizes they are in for something different tonight.

The evening starts with a murder so fresh that the “dead” body is still moving into place when the lights come up. Deer in the headlights moment. Start again. Jonathan (Yeagel T. Welch) has been murdered on the night of his engagement announcement to Sandra (Jamie Ann Romero). But who could have dunnit? Was it Cecil (Ned Noyes), Jonathan’s brother who has a suspiciously close relationship with Sandra? Perhaps it was the obsequious little butler Perkins (Scott Cote) because the butler always does it? Maybe Sandra’s brother Robert (Peyton Crim) to protect his sister? Even the Police Inspector Carter (Evan Alexander Smith) who arrives to investigate faces scrutiny.  Solving the murder quickly becomes secondary to getting through the play. I cannot speak too highly of the talent of this remarkable group of real actors. This play is dangerous and includes remarkable demands on the physical strength and flexibility of the actors.  They are however more than up to the task.

The cast is lead by Denver’s own Jamie Ann Romero who shows us a new side of her considerable talent. Most will remember her nuanced performance as Thomasina in ARCADIA at the Hand Theatre or her Juliet in ROMEO AND JULIET for Colorado Shakespeare Festival. A touch of her wild side came out in THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA McBRIDE for the Denver Center – but that crazy door flew wide open in this show. She takes the biggest beating –  getting wrestled to the floor, pummeled by a door, and pulled through a window feet first.

She is ably supported by Peyton Crim, he with the stentorious voice and the disdain of a diva, as her handsome brother. His faux character shows the most assurance as an actor; after all, he did play Dopey in SNOW WHITE. Ned Noyes as the beginning actor portrays so well the fun of hearing an audience laugh at one of his lines for the first time. He immediately goes overboard working for the laugh and over-emoting with his arms. But when it comes time for his first stage kiss, it’s another story. Scott Cote’s butler initiates one of the funniest scenes by his inability to remember his next line, causing a scene to be re-enacted repeatedly as they struggle to get past the line he can’t remember. Evan Alexander Smith as the Inspector ranges between panic at what’s happening on stage and anger at the audience for laughing through his “serious” drama. The backstage people (Angela Grovey and Brandon Ellis) also land on stage to help out as actors start dropping like flies.

The set becomes the ninth character as it cooperates, then defeats the actors. I was just beginning to think how much fun this will be to see in regional theatres in a few years when the set lost is mind and went mad. See it now!! You may never be able to see it again.

PLEASE – if you see only one show this year, make it this one. Do without Starbucks for a week and buy a ticket. This is the HAMILTON of comedies!

A WOW factor of 10!!