Hoopla

Preview: National tour of 'The Play that Goes Wrong,' coming to Des Moines next week

Actress relishing chance to stretch her slapstick chops on national tour

Jeremy Daniel photo

Murder, melodrama and madcap mayhem abound in “The Play that Goes Wrong.” The first national tour of this 2017 Tony-winning play is coming to the Des Moines Civic Center from Tuesday (6/25) to June 30.
Jeremy Daniel photo Murder, melodrama and madcap mayhem abound in “The Play that Goes Wrong.” The first national tour of this 2017 Tony-winning play is coming to the Des Moines Civic Center from Tuesday (6/25) to June 30.
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It’s opening night of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” and all manner of things are going wrong.

Haven’t heard any Broadway buzz about that show? It’s actually a play within a play, where a British drama society is staging a 1920s murder mystery, all wrapped up in “The Play that Goes Wrong.”

Deemed London’s best new comedy in 2015, the synopsis says the mayhem contains “an unconscious leading lady, a corpse that can’t play dead, and actors who trip over everything (including their lines),” with the action “quickly going from bad to utterly disastrous.”

No, it’s not a sequel, prequel or kiss-of-death cousin to “Noises Off.”

“It does have some similarities, but I would just describe it as if ‘Monty Python’ and an Agatha Christie play had a baby, or like Sherlock Holmes and the Three Stooges,” actress Jamie Ann Romero said. She’s part of the first U.S. national tour of the play, coming to the Des Moines Civic Center for eight performances Tuesday (6/25) to June 30.

Everyone onstage is a lead actor — including the set. Often referred to as the “13th actor,” the scenery falls apart as the action falls apart, and nabbed 2017 Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Scenic Design for Nigel Hook.

“He designed a fantastic, brilliant set that has just as much character as any actor onstage,” Romero said by phone from a recent tour stop in Baltimore. “It’s very intricate, and has many purposely designed flaws that are exciting for the audience to see.” Fearful of giving away the secrets to its scenic success, she demurred, “At the end of the play, you’ll know why.”

The show hit Broadway in 2017, racking up more laughs among American audiences and critics, then hit the road in September.

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“It’s pretty rare that plays go on national tours,” Romero said. “I think that speaks to the power of the comedy of the show.”

She advises audiences to “be prepared to come and have a good time, and laugh pretty hard for the whole evening.”

“I’m not kidding when I say that this play has a laugh a minute — and most often more than a laugh a minute. The primary complaint at the end of the show is people say that their stomach hurts.”

Romero, a Denver, Colo., native in her 30s, plays Sandra Wilkinson in the acting troupe staging the murder mystery, and in that show, she portrays Florence Colleymoore, the murder victim’s fiancee.

“She’s prone to having hysterical fits,” Romero said. “When she’s overwhelmed by emotion, she goes a little crazy.”

While audiences mostly see the character each cast member is playing — in her case, Florence — Romero said Sandra has “a pretty epic arc.”

“The Sandra you see at beginning of the play is definitely not the Sandra you see at the end,” she said. “That’s true of all the characters. Everyone has a pretty epic growth.”

Her favorite moments in the show don’t happen when she’s in the spotlight.

“I have a lot of favorite moments,” she said. “When I’m not onstage and get to watch the show, that’s one of my favorite parts. There’s a small hole in the set that I can look through. I love to watch the audience laugh.”

She’s relishing the wacky experience.

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“It’s rare that women in comedies get to be really slapsticky or really outrageously funny,” she said. “That’s (the) great gift about this play. There are two women in the show, and we get to be just as wild and crazy as the guys.”

Based in New York City the past five and a half years, this show marks her first touring experience — and it’s helping her stretch and grow as an artist.

“This will be the longest run of a show I’ve ever done,” she said. “By the end of the tour, we will have done over 300 performances. And so, it’s a great challenge to keep a play fresh and new and exciting, even though you’ve done it so many times. One of the things that helps with that is our audiences. Their interaction and the way they laugh at certain jokes helps keep it new and fresh and alive.”

Touring also helps get the self-proclaimed homebody out of her comfort zone and routine. She’s missing her partner, who also is an actor in New York, but he gets to come and visit her at least once a month. She also misses milestone events like birthdays, weddings and funerals, but it helps that the cast and crew have grown close and enjoy group outings in the cities they visit.

One bonus is having the show swing through her hometown, so her family and friends could see her in action.

While no other family members are in the theater arts, Romero said they’re all “wildly funny, all very creative people who have really helped and encouraged” her career.

Her grandmother even keeps a list on her refrigerator noting every play Romero has done since high school. It’s a long list, with credits in Oregon, Utah and Colorado Shakespeare festivals, off-Broadway shows, the Maxim Gorky Theatre in Vladivostok, Russia, the film “Viper Club” and “The Punisher” and “House of Cards” on TV.

Her heart still beats for Shakespeare, but she’s enjoying the wild ride with this whodunit. And naturally, with a play where everything is supposed to go wrong, sometimes unexpected things go wrong, as well.

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“The thing that’s great about when this show goes wrong is that ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’ goes right, so if a prop doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, we just keep doing the murder mystery as it’s supposed to be performed,” she said.

“We did have a young woman in Toronto get very loud, very violent hiccups at end of first act. She was laughing so hard that she couldn’t stop her hiccups from coming out. The audience was losing it — the whole audience could hear her and everyone onstage could hear her, and it was very funny.” During the curtain call, she held up a sign that said, “I’m sorry.”

“It was great,” Romero said with a laugh of her own.

GET OUT!

WHAT: National tour: ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’

WHERE: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines

WHEN: Tuesday (6/25) to June 30; 7:30 p.m. June 25 to 28, 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 29, 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 30 RUN TIME: 2 hours TICKETS: $36 to $131; Civic Center Ticket Office, (515) 246-2300 or Desmoinesperformingarts.org

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