REVIEW: CSC’s The Play That Goes Wrong is Oh-So-Right!

Justin McCombs’ stint as a bad actor playing a butler is probably one of my favorite things in the entire universe at present.

By Katrina “Kat” Reynolds

For its final show of the 2023-2024 season, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company brings us The Play That Goes Wrong, a smash-hit comedy written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields. For those who may not know, The Play That Goes Wrong is the story of an Opening Night production of Cornley Drama Society’s latest offering, The Murder at Haversham Manor. Rife with plenty of unscripted on-stage drama, the Society tries its best to give the audience a show it will not easily forget!

The Production Team

A show like this relies heavily on its production team and, fortunately, CSC has one of the best in the business. First and foremost, Technical Director Chris Holloway hits this one out of the park supported by a stellar band of talented folx. Scenic Designer Samantha Reno along with Master Carpenter Drew Homan have created an unbelievably beautiful and functional set. There are not enough words of appreciation for how incredible the set and the effects used to “enhance” it are. The level of detail is masterful, especially knowing the set will hit some bumps (that’s as close to a spoiler as I will get). Costume Design by Rainy Edwards is once again creative, period appropriate, and complements each actor’s character(s) perfectly. Lighting Design and Sound Design by Alice Trent and Chris Guthrie, respectively, are purposeful and offer an extra set of characters to this hilarious romp. 

Last but not least, Director Brian Isaac Phillips and Fight Choreographer Gina Cerimele-Mechley deserve their own individual mentions. To make a series of pratfalls and accidents and bad acting look legitimate takes a lot more work than one might suspect. Further, ensuring the safety of the actors and crew is paramount and Mr. Phillips and Ms. Cerimele-Mechley have proven themselves trustworthy with their deliberate, yet natural choreography.

Some action on Stage Left featuring Jeremy Dubin, Billy Chace, and Matthew Lewis Johnson in CSC’s The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo credit to Mikki Schaffner.

The Performing Artists

As most know, CSC excels at casting an ensemble which truly exhibits the meaning of the word. When you have the vast performance skills (in alphabetical order) of Geoffrey Warren Barnes II, Darnell Pierre Benjamin, Billy Chace, Jeremy Dubin, Jared Earland, Candice Handy, Matthew Lewis Johnson, Justin McCombs, and Kelly Mengelkoch, you know you have a hit. 

It’s hard to choose standouts, but I know that Justin McCombs’ stint as a bad actor playing a butler is probably one of my favorite things in the entire universe at present. To be able to tap into what a novice actor would do on stage while never missing a beat and making us laugh is quite the task – and Mr. McCombs serves. Matching his energy is Billy Chace in a role seemingly written just for him. His “play-within-a-play” character is a large part of the action and Mr. Chace gets to use much of his finely-honed bag of finesse: spot-on expressions, perfect punchline delivery, and an impressive physicality. 

Billy Chace, Candice Handy, Justin McCombs, and Jeremy Dubin in CSC’s The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo credit to Mikki Schaffner.

The Play That Goes Wrong is A Must See

While being an actor is not a prerequisite for enjoying The Play That Goes Wrong, I will admit my being an actress definitely gives it an extra layer of giggles. You will laugh until you cry (or snort); you will be surprised by plot twists; you will wonder “How did they DO that?!” more than once; and you will walk away with the satisfaction that comes from a really enjoyable time at the theatre. You may also end up wanting to buy every artist who is working on this project a gift certificate for a massage because it is evident this is quite the labour of love. This one deserves the moniker of a “must-see”, so get your tickets now!

Tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company runs now through June 16th. Run time is 2 hours which includes one 15-minute intermission. PRODUCTION NOTE: show contains simulated gunshots and use of flashing lights. For more information about this and to purchase tickets, please contact the Box Office online or by phoning (513) 381-2273.

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