"This is a disaster!" a character yells in the middle of "The Play That Goes Wrong" as props and malapropisms start to fly.
A giddy, frothy disaster, that is. This gut-busting British farce, making its madcap regional premiere at Old Log Theater, is well timed as the theater welcomes patrons again for the first time in 19 months.
Frenetically directed by Eric Morris and deliberately overacted by a tireless company, "Goes Wrong" includes an unconscious leading lady (played like a rag doll by Emily Scinto); a supposed corpse that won't stay dead (twitchy Neal Skoy) and an inspector who seems to be after truth in the show-within-a-show (Luke Aaron Davidson). There are lots of funny theatrical mishaps — including the imbibing and violent spitting out of paint thinner.
Like Michael Frayn's classic satire "Noises Off," the play is a kind of comic meta-theater. The Cornley Drama Society has a history of trying to make shows work using its existing ensemble rather than recruiting new actors. It adjusts the titles of productions accordingly. Past successes include "The Lion and the Wardrobe," "Cat," and "James and the Peach."
Now the society is staging "The Murder at Haversham Manor," a "Mousetrap"-esque murder mystery in which the suspects include the fiancée (Scinto), her brother (Carl Swanson) and a dog-wrangling gardener (Michael Terrell Brown). People — and things — go bump in the play, culminating in a meltdown that pays homage to Buster Keaton's 1928 silent comedy "Steamboat Bill, Jr."
The Old Log team might have been better served by the original 2012, one-act script by members of Britain's Mischief Theatre Company, which was expanded into a production that continues to play London's West End and also ran on Broadway. This is a show that's in love with its own tricks. It is an entire act too long. While the physical comedy builds throughout, jokes are repeated ad nauseam.
Still, there's a lot to celebrate in this staging, one of Old Log's most technically complex and accomplished in recent years. Doors are always being slammed and things are always falling off the walls, which collapse on a set that gets pared to nothing by the end. The Times of London described this show as "a masterpiece of malfunction." If it all works to plan, it's because Erik Paulson's complex, deconstruction-ready set is an impressive character in itself.
That the acting company remains safe only heightens the laughs. Farces are generally played broad and this one aims for the football field.
In addition to Scinto, who duets with Audrey Parry, noteworthy performers include Davidson, who never gives away his characters' secrets; Brown as the gardener and the brother of the deceased, and Old Log owner Greg Frankenfield, who makes his professional debut as Trevor, the lunkhead of a light and sound operator. All are skilled at mining mayhem for laughs.
'The Play That Goes Wrong'
Who: By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. Directed by Eric Morris.
Where: Old Log Theater, 5185 Meadville St., Greenwood.
When: 1:30 p.m. Thu., 7:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. through Feb. 26. Masks recommended.
Tickets: $30-$40. 952-474-5951 ext. 0, or oldlog.com