The Play That Goes Wrong

Actors Kevin Earley, E. Faye Butler, Davon Williams and Lara Hayhurst perform in "The Play That Goes Wrong," which will run at the Fulton Theatre until Feb. 12.

It's a play within a play, but everything goes awry.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" features several high-caliber actors who want nothing more than to put on a 1920s-themed murder mystery play. They're determined to make it happen.

It's not as easy as it seems. 

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Something as simple as hanging up a coat doesn't come without consequence. The set is constantly working against the actors. 

It's packed with lighthearted British humor, coupled with slapstick comedy gags.

"It's two and a half hours of nonstop joy," says actor E. Faye Butler, who plays the role of Annie.

Marc Robin, artistic director of the Fulton Theatre, says that he's never heard consistent, prolonged laughter the whole way through a play like he's heard at this production.  

Here's what you need to know before you see "The Play That Goes Wrong."

It's lighthearted and good for escaping life for a few hours.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" isn't trying to offer deep commentary about society.

Robin describes it as an elongated sketch from the comedic "The Carol Burnett Show," with moments of levity and fun.

Butler agrees, and says the show's goofy, lighthearted nature is a welcome change of pace.

"We just don't like to have good old American silly fun, where it didn't have to be about anything in particular," Butler says. "It was just foolishness. Like, why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. How silly is that? Sometimes it's just that simple."

But, on top of the fun is a well-crafted murder mystery, Robin says. He recalls previous shows where people would stand in the lobby and ask others who they thought committed the murder. 

"Our audiences in Lancaster, in general, love good murder mysteries," Robin says. "Our Agatha Christie plays sometimes sell better than the big musicals."

The set is a character in its own right, even if actors don't explicitly mention it.

The set for "The Play That Goes Wrong" has received a lot of attention, including two set-based awards in 2017 for the play's Broadway run — a Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Scenic Design of a Play.

"It's the main character of the show," says Curt Dale Clark, who plays the role of Chris. Clark is married to Robin and is also the artistic director of the Maine State Music Theatre.

There's a lot to look at on set, a lot of beautiful aspects worth noticing. But it's perhaps one of the play's main antagonists.

"It's deceiving. It's so pretty when you walk in," Butler says. "By the end of the show, it doesn't look like that anymore."

You won't see 'The Play That Goes Wrong' in many regional theaters.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" is very physical and technical, which means that the theater that takes on this production needs to have both a big enough stage to handle it, as well as enough money budgeted to make sure all safety measures are in place, Robin says.

And, the production needs a well-seasoned cast to function properly.

"There's a trust factor involved with a piece like this," Butler says. "If we don't trust one another, and we don't find comfort as cast members and trust the director as well, we're in a hole. As good as this can be, it can be that bad."

The script itself is about 76 pages long, which would take roughly an hour to read through without any of the physical stunts. Robin's personal copy of the script has notes stuffed in every margin about what steps to take and when.

In one scene, Butler gets hit with a falling wall. If she's off her mark, it could quickly injure her. 

The Fulton Theatre partnered with Prana Physical Therapy to make sure the actors are taken care of and safe, Robin says.

To be considered to get the rights to a certain production, the respective play's publishing house considers the requesting theater's demographic and size, among other criteria.

"We've been lucky to get it, because the Fulton over the last few years, especially the last five years, has really sort of grown into being more of an expected Broadway-style theater," Robin says.

Two of the play's principal actors, Curt Dale Clark and E. Faye Butler, have performed with each other for around 30 years.

Actors Clark and Butler have known each other and performed alongside each other for many years. 

They both grew up near Rockford, Illinois, about an hour and a half outside Chicago. (Robin, who has also known both of them for about 30 years, also grew up in the Rockford area).

The actors' dynamic consists of a lot of loving play-fighting.

"First of all, I've seen him in tights more than any man I know in my life," Butler says. 

"I've done a lot of children's theater," Clark says with a loud laugh. "There was one morning where I knew my schedule was very tight, and I had the tights on under my pants because I knew I was going to get there, get dressed and go on stage. And I take my pants off and she just looked at me like, 'What the?'"

When Robin and Clark saw the play in London, they left saying that if they ever brought the play to the Fulton, that they would want Butler to play the role of Annie.

"It's kind of a dream come true for me," Robin says. 

The Play That Goes Wrong 2

E. Faye Butler and Curt Dale Clark have performed together for more than 30 years. They perform together once more in the Fulton Theatre's production of "The Play That Goes Wrong."

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