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Monty Python meets Sherlock Holmes in SRT’s latest show

In its season opening production of The Play That Goes Wrong, Sierra Repertory Theatre (SRT) comes close to literally bringing down the house.

Written by Mischief Theatre Company as its first piece, co-founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields came up with the concept while students at the London of Music and Dramatic Art. It won the Olivier Award for best new comedy, and enjoyed several runs in the UK before arriving on Broadway in 2017.

The show is actually a play-within-a-play. In fact, SRT bills it as a production by the Sonora Theatre Dramatic Society (and yes, the acronym STDS is intentional), taking over SRT’s East Sonora stage.

The premise is that the fictitious STDS theatre troupe, struggling to pull all the loose ends together in time for opening night of its latest production, The Murder at Haversham Manor, barely manages by showtime to debut its in-house penned who-dun-it. Set in the roaring ‘20s, the stage play is loosely based on the murder mystery classic The Mousetrap.

As the still disorganized show opens, props are out of place and the ambitiously designed but poorly executed set has been haphazardly put together, but the actors and crew still take their places, because after all, the show must go on, right?

The murder mystery plot involves an engagement party that is about to begin at the country estate of Charles Haversham, who mysteriously dies at the start of the first scene. The actor playing the role, Alex Figueroa, who SRT audiences might remember as part of SRT’s production of Cinderella last fall, will go on for much of the play as a corpse who, due to production mishaps, has to maneuver himself in and out of various scenes.

Three ‘leading ladies’?

SRT’s Jackie Thompson, who SRT audiences might recall from last fall as Cinderella’s over-the-top wicked stepsister Charlotte, plays a petrified assistant stage manager forced to take over for leading lady Allie Pratt (who most recently appeared as Elaine in SRT’s The Graduate), when she gets knocked out due to a malfunctioning door in the show’s first of many soon to escalate mishaps.

Both are excellent in their respective roles and in their brawling interplay as unintended rivals when neither of their characters concedes the spotlight. Another actor, Joseph Dalfonso, who begins the show off-stage as STDS’ sulky lighting and sound technician, also finds himself through the compounding circumstances onstage to briefly take on the role, much against his will.

Again in a ringmaster role as the inspector, Daniel Harray, who masterfully played Watson in SRT’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (and who can be spotted in the tv series Orange Is the New Black and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), helps drive the play, showing off commanding melodramatic skills. He along with Nick Ferrucci, who plays Charles Haversham’s butler, and Cody Gerszewski, cast as Charles Haversham’s oldest friend, are all great foils for each other.

Zaq Wentworth, cast by the fictitious STDS to play Charles Haversham’s scheming younger brother and the estate’s ancient gardener, excellently depicts a bumbling newbie actor who manages to engage and endear himself to the audience while learning his way around the stage through trial and error. He also draws cheers for cleverly troubleshooting his way through some of the mounting stage mishaps.

The ensemble cast’s stage physicality and ability to work with the misplaced/alternative and malfunctioning props and seemingly ramshackle set is quite an accomplishment. The set itself, with so many parts designed to spectacularly fail, is a marvel.

The Play That Goes Wrong, suitable for audiences age 8 and older, runs through March 24 with evening performances Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.; matinee performances begin Wednesday at noon, and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. In the wings is SRT’s Little Shop of Horrors, slated to open March 28 and run through April 28 at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Historic Park. For more details on SRT shows and dates, go to sierrarep.org.

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