CBU brings comedy to the stage in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’
Riverside, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2023) – California Baptist University students are having fun as they work to perfect comedy in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” opening Feb. 10 in the Wallace Theatre.
In this production, the actors play characters from a British drama society who themselves are trying to put on a play about a murder mystery, only things go wrong throughout the production.
“It’s essentially a play about what happens when the show must go on,” said Lee Lyons, professor of theatre and director of the production. “What would happen if actors were confronted by pictures falling off the wall and collapsing pieces of scenery that they’re trying to stand on? How would they react under those circumstances? That’s where the comedy ensues.”
Lyons describes comedy as a ladder with three steps: the set-up, build-up and punchline. In “The Play That Goes Wrong,” Lyons counted 148 physical comedic bits that the 12-member cast must carry out.
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” Lyons said. “Comedy is hard because it relies on surprise. You set the audience up to expect one thing, and then you tell them something else and they laugh at that. Or it’s physical comedy where somebody slips and — bang — they crash, and there is humor in that because you see them pop right back up.”
“The Play That Goes Wrong” centers largely around physical comedy, meaning that cast members must learn how to safely perform stage combat such as falling, being hit or sword fighting. Zachary Bortot, associate professor of theatre serves as fight director to instruct the cast in the proper way to carry out stage combat.
“Unbelievably, everybody takes a hit in some way in this show,” Lyons said.
In addition, the comedy adds another layer to the technical aspect of the play. Lyons said they are using various techniques to sell the comedic bits, including electromagnets, smoke and cold fire, which safely provides the illusion of fire on stage.
“The set itself is often described as one of the cast members because so much of the comedy comes from things falling down and breaking and not being there when the actors expect it, or the doors get locked and they can’t get in so they have to crawl through different openings to get in,” Lyons said. “The set acts like a character in the play, so it’s very technically demanding for us to make everything work.”
Sabrina Heim, a theatre and forensic psychology freshman, plays Florence Colleymore. She said that it has been challenging to rehearse the comedy bits without the full set and props. However, she has enjoyed working with the rest of the cast and Lyons to find the best way to execute comedy in the show.
“Our show's motto is, ‘What's the funniest way to do this?’” Heim said. “When you spend four hours a night together, bouncing off ideas for different bits, which then turn into running backstage jokes, you have no option but to become extremely close with one another. It's encouraging to go through this process with one another, especially when everyone is so open to each other and comfortable pushing to get the maximum level of comedy.”
This production is also unique in that it is a play within a play; the cast members must act as characters who are themselves playing characters in their own production, “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” Hence, the actors must essentially learn two roles and figure out how to blend the two personalities.
“You have a duality,” Lyons said. “Each character has two names essentially. When we look at character study, we look at: who is the actor? And then who is the character the actor is playing? And how are they different from each other?”
Matthew Furness, a Christian behavioral science freshman, plays Chris, the director of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” and Chris’s character in the murder mystery, Inspector Carter. He said it has been an adjustment to learn two roles and showcase both through lines and body language, but he has enjoyed figuring it out with the cast.
“It’s such a funny, comedic show, and being able to talk and hang out with the other actors and realize what choices they are making and what they are realizing throughout the show, and exploring that together, has been a lot of fun,” Furness said. “In this show, there are a lot of ad-libs we can add in here and there based on what is going on, so it’s just hilarious to hear someone say something and try to hold it together on stage.”
Kaleb Bravo, a film freshman, plays the roles of the actor Max, who plays Cecil Haversham and the gardener in the murder mystery play. While it can be difficult for him to keep his energy up during late-night rehearsals, Bravo, like Furness, has enjoyed the freedom comedy provides.
“[My favorite part] has been adding my own stuff to it,” Bravo said. “Lee gives us enough open room to try to do what we can for the character. I have been able to add in my own things that I thought were funny — some of them were, and some of them weren’t. My favorite part is seeing people laugh.”
In the production, the audience will have the opportunity to see the behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre that they normally do not see during a show — and the chaos that ensues when things do not go as planned.
“I hope they enjoy the mayhem when things start going wrong on stage and plucky actors just try to live by the motto ‘the show must go on,’” Lyons said. “What will they put up with to get this play to the end? If the audience goes along for the ride, I think that would be our greatest pleasure.”
The Play That Goes Wrong
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-11, Feb. 16-18; 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 18
Where: Wallace Theatre, California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA, 92504
For tickets or more information, please visit https://calbaptist.edu/theater/current-production