Everything that could go wrong does in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” But don’t feel sorry for the actors.
“It’s all fairly rigid,” says Evan Alexander Smith, one of the touring production’s stars. “We don’t color too far out of the lines.”
Those missing props and forgotten lines? They’re supposed to be that way. The wonky set? Ditto.
The comedy is a look at a woefully bad theater company that can’t quite get things right. When accidents happen, the actors proceed on and try to bring the play within a play to some kind of conclusion.
For Smith, a veteran of Broadway musicals, the concept was a bit daunting. “I was terrified initially,” he says. “I’m not somebody who comes from an improv background.”
As a member of the Cornley University Drama Society, he’s trying to stage a murder mystery but trouble ensues. Among the biggest problems: A set that has a mind of its own.
“She’s a bit of a diva,” Smith says. “She tends to decide when she wants to play with us and when she doesn’t.”
Rigged to thwart some of the mystery’s most dramatic moments, the set won a Tony Award for its inventiveness. Because it’s a character, too, everything must be choreographed for maximum impact. “If you stand in the right place at the right time, you’re very, very safe,” Smith says. “It’s more dangerous-looking than it is.”
Still, because the actors have plenty of pratfalls, “we’re all sporting bruises.”
For the classically trained Canadian, “The Play That Goes Wrong” offered another new wrinkle – interacting with the audience. “So much of what we do on the stage depends on the audience,” he says. “Night to night, there’s a little bit of give and take.”
As the murder mystery’s director, Smith’s character feels responsible. He greets the audience at the beginning of the show and gets a chance to understand what the crowd might be like.
“I come out and chat with people about 15 or 20 minutes before the show begins. I invite them into the world of the play.”
By the time the action starts, Smith has a good sense of what some of the 2,000-plus people might be like.
The farce grew out of a fringe festival performance in London that only attracted four paying audience members. The creators (who also starred in the West End and Broadway versions), expanded the piece, added that interactive set and emerged with a show that won an Olivier Award and continues to wow on Broadway.
Because the set is such an integral part of the play, it has the same footprint no matter where the touring production goes. “The people pushing the buttons are the same from theater to theater,” Smith says. “What changes is the size of the audience.”
Throughout its run, the show has never failed to bring big laughs. Smith says that’s because it’s just “two hours of non-stop fun. There’s no message, no political agenda. Nobody is getting you to feel things. We’re in a time right now where people are craving that kind of escape.”
For the actor (who has been in everything from “Dirty Dancing” to “The Toxic Avenger”), it’s a great chance to go on his own adventure each night. “After the show, I’m a wreck,” Smith says. “It takes a lot of stamina to get through eight shows and week and come out of it with your brain still working. It’s like a clown marathon.”