Some of my favorite theater moments have come when something unexpectedly went wrong onstage. Alan Bates caught a picture falling off the wall and ad libbed about poor housekeeping. Faith Prince continued to type even as her typewriter table collapsed onto her lap. Seasoned actors maintain their poise and “roll with it,” much to the delight of their audiences.
So what would happen if all the ‘screw-ups’ are done on purpose? That is the formula The Mischief Company has adopted. In the hands of those skilled professionals, collapsing scenery, uncontrolled flying apparatus, missing props, and ‘unconscious’ actors all contribute to audience enjoyment.
With the precision of a choreographed ballet, the English troupe has done it again, this time unleashing its shenanigans on the JM Barrie classic tale, Peter Pan. presenting a version of the story unlike anything seen before. If you were lucky enough to see “The Play That Goes Wrong” in either London or New York, you know what to expect- a couple of hours of goofs, spills, falls, near-misses, and lots of laughter.
Directed by Adam Meggido, the premise of “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” is quite obvious; something will go wrong during the performance of the play. In fact, everything will go wrong. To maintain the joke, several pages of the Playbill are devoted to the fictitious production. Immediately the audience is introduced to two of the actual show’s writers, Henry Shields portrays the play’s director, Chris Bean who also plays George Darling and Captain Hook and his ‘co-director’ Robert Grove (the burly Henry Lewis) who plays tons of other parts. Grove explains that this production has gotten an infusion of cash, allowing it to be an improvement on past shows when money was a problem and they could only do things like “Jack and the Bean.”
For the first few weeks of its limited run, “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” features a guest host, Neil Patrick Harris. Harris easily fits in the lunacy, often struggling with his chair and liberally tossing glitter, and setting the scene. Later he has a second role as one of Hook’s men.
During the course of the many mishaps, the audience gets the ‘dirt’ on some of the actors. Who’s involved with whom and who got the role because his parents were donors. One actor Dennis (Jonathan Sayer, the actual third writer) wears headphones through which he’s being given his lines. Unfortunately, Dennis doesn't know how to filter stage directions from actual dialogue and it’s hysterical.
Our audience was carefully primed with actors roaming through the audience before the play began, and suddenly this play involved a lot of audience participation. Not only was there a vocal group of fans present for Harris but everyone knew to boo and cheer loudly. At various points, the performers broke the fourth wall and encouraged audience involvement, much to its delight.
There was little new in the way of pratfalls and farce and some repetition but it didn't matter. Doors open by mistake, the turntable keeps turning (hey-that’s why it’s called a turntable) Captain Hook's ship tilts and his hook falls off - you get the picture and the audience loves it all.
Most of the humor is visual, including pratfalls and quick costume changes. Each time Henry Lewis assumed a different role, he used his considerable girth as a source of comedy. On occasion, the electric system became faulty, causing the lights to flicker and the sound system to go awry, playing embarrassing audition tapes.
The play is funny and farcical and even includes some music.There are a couple of frenetic numbers that leave the viewer breathlessly wondering how the actors can do this night after night.
You have to approach this show with the right attitude; it’s not fine theater. Are you going to leave with some intellectual ideology to consider on the ride home? Absolutely not! But are you going to have fun? Yup.
There’s nothing serious or philosophical- just incredible timing and athleticism of the performers. It’s like a dollop of whipped cream-light and frothy. I was sorry I didn’t take the 10 year old that night, but the good news is that I now have a good reason to go back to see it again.
243 W 47TH ST (BETWEEN BROADWAY & 8TH AVE)
New York, NY