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Patrick Lanham

The Play That Goes Wrong 

When: Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 7
Price: $19-$92

The Conley Polytechnic Drama Society, one of England's lesser-known community theater groups, has been bequeathed a large sum of money to produce a new play. The company decides on the 1920s murder-mystery The Murder at Haversack Manor mostly because it has parts enough for all the actors.

That's the fictitious background for The Play That Goes Wrong, which is actually a physically demanding comedy created by the Mischief Theatre Company, a very real performance troupe. As its title implies, the play within the play is a spectacular catastrophe before the curtain goes up. Props break, cues are missed and at least one actor is knocked unconscious, which starts a very public row about which cast member gets to play the part to the finale.

As you might imagine, making the play go wrong requires strenuous rehearsal and split-second timing from both the cast on stage and the cast back stage, the latter of whom are actors playing techs. Every role is demanding, because a mistake can result in very real injury — but when everybody hits their marks, you see a flawless, outrageously funny actor's nightmare unfold in real time. The Play that Goes Wrong closes out the Repertory Theatre St. Louis' current season. Performances take place Tuesday through Sunday (March 15 to April 7) at the Loretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road; www.repstl.org). Tickets are $19 to $92.

— Paul Friswold

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