Florida Studio Theatre actors prepare for disaster in “The Play That Goes Wrong’

·5 min read
The cast of Florida Studio Theatre’s production of the comedy “The Play that Goes Wrong.”
The cast of Florida Studio Theatre’s production of the comedy “The Play that Goes Wrong.”

Editor’s Note: After this story was published, Florida Studio Theatre announced that it would delay the opening by one week to Jan. 26 and extend the run through March 20 because of COVID-19 exposures in the company.

Decades ago, Bruce Jordan appeared in a dinner theater production of the Bob Randall comedy “6 Rms Riv Vu” that was staged in the round. To allow audiences to see from all angles, it featured a skeletal set with a couple of doors to separate spaces in an apartment.

“I was playing a businessman looking at this apartment with a river view. I walked in, and I didn’t have control of my attaché case, and I knocked the support for the front door, and everything on the set was connected to the front door,” he recalled. “Little by little the set collapses around me. Fortunately, there were only two people in the play, and you could duck and roll. The audience thought it was part of the play. They didn’t think it was a mistake.”

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It’s reminiscent of the kind of disasters that regularly befall the cast of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a comedy that makes its regional debut this week at Florida Studio Theatre, with Jordan as the director.

In this British comedy by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer of the Mischief Theatre Co., just about everything that could go wrong on stage does, from injuries to missing props, doors that won’t open when needed (and do open when they’re not) and sets that just don’t cooperate with the physical demands put on them.

Twin sisters Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, scenic designers for more than two dozen Florida Studio Theatre shows, said the script was “written so specifically about the ground plan that the layout of the set was dictated very much by the playwrights.”

A rough sketch of the set design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay for the Florida Studio Theatre production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.”
A rough sketch of the set design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay for the Florida Studio Theatre production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

Since he first brought the long-running hit “Shear Madness” (which he co-created and directed) to Sarasota in 2010, Jordan has become FST’s go-to director for farcical and physical comedies.

In addition to several runs of “Shear Madness,” a murder mystery set in a hair salon that he co-created and regularly directs, he has staged “The Underpants,” “The Perfect Wedding,” the Monty Python musical “Spamalot” and “Murder for Two.”

Jordan usually works hard to make sure that things go right and the actors perfect their timing to get the most laughs possible out of each moment on stage.

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But for “The Play That Goes Wrong,” that hard work is meant to both get the laughs and prepare for a series of disasters that befall an amateur theater company as they present the fictional whodunit “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”

To localize things for the FST production, the acting company is the West Palmetto Drama Society.

He is working closely with fight choreographer J. Paul Nicholas, an associate artist at the theater, to create a safe environment for the cast.

Staging a ‘demolition derby’

When it opened on Broadway in 2017, The New York Times said it was “as close to a demolition derby as we are likely to see on Broadway” and that it is “devoted entirely to destroying itself before your eyes.”

Bruce Jordan, a co-creator and director of “Shear Madness,” is directing the Florida Studio Theatre production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.”
Bruce Jordan, a co-creator and director of “Shear Madness,” is directing the Florida Studio Theatre production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

The worse things get, the funnier it is supposed to be.

“I think we’ve probably all been in situations of doing a project that doesn’t work out the way we had planned,” Jordan said of how anyone can relate to the problems faced by the cast. ”This little theater group has been rehearsing six or eight weeks. Things go wrong, and they have to figure out a way to keep going because the show must go on.”

Because of health and safety concerns caused by COVID-19 (which delayed one cast member’s start of in-person rehearsals), Jordan is creating alternatives to the ways the original productions used audience interactions and assistance.

The characters of the stage manager, Annie (played by Emily Berman in her FST debut) and the lighting designer Trevor (played by returning FST actor Freddie Lee Bennett) will be handling some of those elements.

Jordan said he wanted to direct the play from the first time he saw it in London, and when he was asked to stage the FST production, he insisted on having actors he has worked with before in other productions “who know the way I work and how quickly to the second we have to plan some of these things.”

Scott Cote reprises the role he played in the national tour of “The Play That Goes Wrong” at Florida Studio Theatre.
Scott Cote reprises the role he played in the national tour of “The Play That Goes Wrong” at Florida Studio Theatre.

He also has been getting some guidance from Scott Cote, who appeared in the national tour of the play and now reprises his role as Dennis. Jordan said Cote has been helpful in understanding how some things were originally done.

“There are a lot of little things in the script that they don’t divulge how they were done, so he is able to unlock some of them,” Jordan said of Cote.

Another national tour veteran Jacqueline Jarrold also is in a cast that features returning FST actors Gil Brady, Timothy C. Goodwin and Jordan Ahnquist, along with John Long, making his local debut.

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

By Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer. Directed by Bruce Jordan. Presented by Florida Studio Theatre Jan. 26-March 20, Gompertz Theatre, 1265 First St., Sarasota. 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org

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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Director finds comedy in disaster in Florida Studio Theatre production

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