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This 2012 play, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields for London’s Mischief Theatre and now playing at the Oriental Theatre, could as easily have been called The Set That Goes Wrong. At least 50 percent of the comic bits in this amusing, intensely physical comedy involve mishaps with the scenery (brilliantly designed by Nigel Hook): wall hangings fall, a door won’t open, an elevator malfunctions, etc. The set is so integral to the story about a provincial theater company that tries—and fails—to put on a rather lackluster fictional 1920s murder mystery that it’s virtually another character. (The Broadway production of the play won the Tony for best scenic design, naturally.)
The humans in this production—the host of awful actors and incompetent crew members—also play their part in running the show off the rails. The ensemble’s packed with adept physical comedians, able to wring laughs out of jokes both small (in one running bit, one actor keeps stepping on the hand of another actor playing a corpse) and large (one of the more elaborate gags is a blatant steal from/homage to that master of silent physical comedy, Buster Keaton). The show’s slow to get started—some of the repetitions in the first act make it feel padded—but the stakes are higher in the deliriously funny second act, as the level of chaos rises and the actors are forced to do increasingly dangerous feats. They struggle mightily to keep the story going—and, to our intense delight, fail. v