Touring farce merges silly slapstick with impeccable timing

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★½

Clock is but one of many props that don’t function as expected in “The Play That Goes Wrong” — along with a clownish ensemble cast that ensures nothing goes right. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Superimpose sublime slapstick and backstage blunders onto a 1920s murder mystery and you’ve got “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

Along with endless sight and verbal gags that produce endless laughs.

And impeccable timing.

An actor acquaintance who’d caught this farce on Broadway, where it debuted in 2017 and ran through last January, touted me onto it. And I’ll be grateful to him for many moons since I absolutely needed a light-hearted escape from personal hassles that’ve been dogging me for what seems forever.

The lone glitch is that the national touring ensemble of the over-the-top play-within-a-play will be in San Francisco at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre only through Sunday. So hurry if you want to have your funny-bone tickled and re-tickled and then tickled some more — in rapid succession.

Just be prepared for a series of missed cues, mispronunciations, mishandled props.

Via marvelously silly material co-written by Mischief Theatre troupe members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” features multiple madcap mishaps, including this one. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Envision, if you will, physical comedy jointly staged by the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball. With a set that’s so tricked out it could lead to audience members wetting their pants.

In truth, the unusually youthful opening night crowd guffawed in unison so vigorously so often that at least a dozen of the 517 laugh-lines were drowned out.

Nothing, however, could quash the visual gags —  corpses that just won’t die, batches of snowflakes that can’t avoid resembling scraps of cut-up paper, characters who keep running into walls, doors and each other.

If too many names confuse you, I’d recommend not looking at the program: It details a faux cast of the faux “Murder at Haversham Manor” play contained within the real play, as well as a faux letter from the faux president of  the faux dramatic society supposedly producing the faux play.

Suffice to say that each member of the actual eight-person cast is superb.

Yes, every now and then during the speedy two-hour, five-minute show (minus intermission), I felt I was gleefully engagedin a living board game in which Col. Mustard might appear any minute in the study with vial of cyanide and a cadaver — or in an upside-down Agatha Christie mystery maze populated by clodhopping clowns.

But then I’d return to reality, meaning I’d just lie back and enjoy everything going awry.

And, like virtually everyone else in the house, laugh out loud.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” runs at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. (at Market), San Francisco, through Aug. 18. Night performances 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; matinees 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $40 to $150 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at or, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →