Photos by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio

This production is scheduled June 27-July 28, 2024.

Inflation these days may cause you to pinch every penny and make the most of every dollar. Which may lead you to consider seeing PCPA’s latest offering, The Play That Goes Wrong, given that it’s a bargain for your ticket price: two plays in one, presented simultaneously.

But the real reason to experience this hilarious evening of absolute absurdity and delight is simple: you will without a doubt enjoy two wonderfully silly hours of non-stop laughter. That was the audience reaction opening night June 27.

It’s creative chaos, requiring some complicated timing and staging, and the cast and crew under the direction of Roger DeLaurier pull it off masterfully while making it look effortless.”

The performance begins well before actual curtain time. From the moment you enter the theatre, you notice “stagehands” making final adjustments to the set and various members of the company roaming the aisles asking if you’ve seen a lost CD and/or a lost dog. These activities provide clues to what unfolds later as a fictional British drama society makes a valiant attempt to stage a play, Murder at Haversham Manor.

Ushers give you two programs: one for the actual production and one for the play that, well, goes wrong during the evening. Actually, it doesn’t just go wrong: it goes off the rails, with cast members upstaging one another, actors mangling lines and cues, and set pieces and props not quite working as they should. Even Murder’s printed program contributes to making this very polished production look like the perfect imperfect amateur theatrical disaster it ultimately becomes.

Erik Stein, Andrew Philpot, and Don Stewart

It’s creative chaos, requiring some complicated timing and staging, and the cast and crew under the direction of Roger DeLaurier pull it off masterfully while making it look effortless. PCPA resident artist Andrew Philpot’s impeccable timing, associate artist Erik Stein’s gangly physicality, and conservatory director for acting Don Stewart’s precise (proper and improper) pronunciation make outstanding contributions to the funniness of this farce. Pratfalls, a wayward toupee, and a functioning fire extinguisher are among the effective tools of their trade.

Toby Tropper and Christen Celaya prove excellent in their roles as amateur actors having to contend with much abuse from the other amateur players, with Tropper playing the corpse whose discovery sets the plot in motion, and Celaya playing the lead actress accidentally stunned into unconsciousness.

Christen Celaya, Toby Tropper, Erik Stein, and Cameron Vargas

Kudos to Madison Shaheen and Jonathan Valerio as behind-the-scenes volunteers who find themselves thrust on stage when some of the shenanigans go sideways. Cameron Vargas, playing a newbie troupe member as green as they come, is just too, too good in his role (he certainly loves his audience!).

Courtney Ekstrom, Victor Meneses, and Hunter Oehlschleger—as stagehands who find themselves in the center of the action more often than they expect—provide solid support for the show’s plot complications (expected and unexpected).

Having a crackerjack cast is just part of the comedic success of a show like this, however. Technical crew members must be on top of their game as well, with so much riding on details integral to the farce of the thing.

Set designer Jason Bolen, costume designer Thomas J. Bernard, lighting designer Jennifer Zornow, sound designer Tony Angelini, and stage manager Jack D. Myles worked with dozens of crew members to create an elegant and elaborate framework on which to hang the show. Near its conclusion, some cast members are literally hanging off a second-floor set piece while trying to solve the mystery of the Haversham Manor murder.

Among misplaced props, a malfunctioning elevator, a teensy fire, and even a faceoff with fencing foils that deteriorates into finger pointing (really), the slapstick keeps coming. Director DeLaurier describes the show as a blending of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Noises Off, and his team more than fulfills the promise of laughter those productions guarantee.

All is very right with The Play That Goes Wrong. The show runs one weekend only (til June 30) in Santa Maria at the Marian Theatre. Then the show moves to the Solvang Festival Theater, running July 12-28.

:: Charlotte Alexander