The last time FST audiences saw Timothy C. Goodwin on the Gompertz Mainstage, he was playing the novice Little League baseball coach Michael in Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third. Now, he’s showing off his acting chops in a completely different play: The Play That Goes Wrong.
In this Tony and Olivier Award-winning comedy, Goodwin plays Jonathan Harris, an amateur actor starring in the fictional West Palmetto Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. This 1920s murder mystery follows the investigation into the death of Charles Haversham, a rich British man who was supposedly murdered on the evening of his engagement party.
(Yes, you read that correctly. Timothy C. Goodwin, a professional actor, plays an amateur performer, who, in turn, plays a dead man.)
Fortunately, to the audience’s delight, things go completely off the rails and anything that can go wrong during the performance does go wrong.
We sat down with Goodwin learn more about the rehearsal process for The Play That Goes Wrong, his love of comedy, and his own stories where things “went wrong” when he was onstage.
You’ve previously starred in fast-paced comedies, like Shear Madness, that require impeccable timing and quite a bit of physical comedy. How do you think your experience with these shows have prepared you for this production?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned with my experience in comedies, it’s that ensemble pieces like The Play That Goes Wrong require you to be on your toes all the time. Not only are you trying to land your own punchlines, but you have to set up your cast mates for their own.
Dramas are easy. Sometimes, you can “wah-wah” your sad lines or “shout-shout” your angry lines in dramas while, in your head, thinking about things like how you’re gonna find time to finish that Beatles documentary. But if you let your mind wander for just the itty-bitty little fraction of an instant in a comedy, there’s a very real danger of derailing the entire show.
Comedies like this are truly a team sport, and I absolutely love being part of a comedy when it really hits its stride because everyone in the theatre – from my fellow cast members and the stage crew to the audience and the stage manager – is working together to make a show that is tight, fast, and, most importantly, funny.
What did you most enjoy exploring during the rehearsal process for The Play That Goes Wrong?
I was lucky enough to play Charles Condomine in a production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit two years ago. (I wore virtually the same exact outfit in that show that I do in The Play That Goes Wrong, although Condomine’s smoking jacket was red, while Haversham’s is purple.) I guess I’m great at playing “rich, ridiculous British white guys.”
The thing that’s exciting about The Play That Goes Wrong is the added layer of playing Jonathan, a first time actor with the fictional West Palmetto Players, who has been cast as Charles Haversham. I really loved digging into my own mental crates, thinking back to when I was in my first few community theatre shows, and I felt personally responsible to fix things in real time while they were going wrong onstage…all while delivering a perfectly-tuned performance*.
*I have never, ever, ever delivered a perfectly-tuned performance, as much as I may try to convince myself I have.
I love the idea that the West Palmetto Players continue to move forward through nonstop adversity towards delivering a complete performance. As for Jonathan? Well, all he needs is about 20 more years of acting experience, disappointment, and showmances-gone-wrong to make the successful switch from a bright-eyed beginner thinking, “Goodness, things are going wrong! Come on team, let’s fix everything immediately so we can continue our art” to the wizened veteran actor thinking, “Meh. Stuff happens.”
The Play That Goes Wrong has become an international comedic sensation. Why do you think it is so popular, especially across so many countries and cultures?
Life is failure, man. It sucks. We all spill our coffee. We miss the sunset everyone else posted to their Instagram. Our beloved car is waiting to sputter and collapse at the side of the road. Plus, pandemics. Being able to laugh at the absolute, unyielding wreck that is the human experience really helps you realize that we’re all in this together.
The creators of The Play That Goes Wrong pulled from some of their disastrous experiences performing when putting together the play. Do you have a story of when something went terribly wrong during a production you were in?
I was in a community production of a Shakespeare play. I can’t remember the show, but the cast consistently outnumbered the audience.
During one of the performances, my scene partner accidentally skipped several lines. He had leapt forward about three scenes (and perhaps into some Beckett), and there was some vital information he was supposed to convey to our three audience members. So in my panic, my younger—i.e. dumber—self thought I could cover for the skipped scene by improvising Shakespeare.
I can’t remember a lot of what I said, but I do remember sputtering, “She doth think you are crazy” into the mix. Upon further inspection, this line doesn’t really fulfill the parameters of iambic pentameter and didn’t actually do anything to help the audience understand what was going on. All they saw was an old man who forgot his lines tottering next to a young moron who looked like he was about to have an aneurysm while speaking complete and utter gibberish.