First your eyebrows fly up to your hair.
Then you gasp.
Then, once you understand that all this theatrical mayhem is intentional and you don’t have to worry that these actors—some of the very best in the city—have hurt themselves, you start laughing. This is not the admiring smirk or a contemptuous Ha-ha!, but fall-off-your-chair, eye-mopping hilarity.
Written by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer, 1812’s production, directed by the mistress of comic timing, Jennifer Childs, is a play within a play.
Here’s the setup: an amateur (very) drama society is putting on an English murder mystery, all mustachioed inspectors and velvet dinner jacketed lord of the manor. The play is called “The Murder at Haversham Manor,”and it is the director’s “dayboo”—there will be a running gag with mis-pronounced words. The show we’re watching depends on slapstick and farce as everything goes wrong: misplaced props, endless spittakes, collapsing sets, and actors knocked unconscious and/or hamming it up (there is nothing like the discovery of audience applause for the amateur).
Spoilers would be criminal, so suffice it to say the cast is tip-top: Sean Close, Melanie Cotton, Scott Greer, Justin Jain, Anthony Lawton, Eli Lynn, Ian Merrill Peakes and Karen Peakes. And all praise to Colin McIlvaine, the set designer.
[1812 Productions at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place] April 27—May 21, 2023; 1812productions.org