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Matt DiCarlo on his journey with The Play That Goes Wrong
Matt DiCarlo has spent the last two years making sure The Play That Goes Wrong goes right -- or, more accurately, wrong, first as stage manager, then as associate director and now as the director of the Off-Broadway transfer of the long-running Broadway farce. A slapstick-filled comedy about an inept college drama club doing a catastrophic performance of a '20s murder mystery, the show originated in London before landing stateside, where DiCarlo initially signed on as stage manager.
"It's been an unbelievable gift," says DiCarlo, a Rutgers University graduate who got his first Broadway gig a decade ago at age 25 as a production assistant for Rock of Ages. "I got the Play That Goes Wrong stage manager job on Broadway right when I found out the show I had been working on, The Color Purple, was closing. I got to fly over to London to learn the show with Mischief Theatre, the people who created and built it from the ground up. They welcomed us new American team members with open arms. Of course there was a learning curve -- they had been doing the show for years and it was already a hit on the West End. The physical life of the show is so choreographed, it's just like a musical. So we were playing catch up."
DiCarlo was clearly a quick study. After a year he was promoted to associate director, and also oversaw its national tour before being invited to helm the show Off-Broadway at New World Stages, where it reopened in February. Although he's credited as director, he calls his Play That Goes Wrong a "recreation," not a fresh take. "It's really fascinating because when you're recreating a show that means there's a map to start from," he says. "It is the Broadway production. We have the blocking, we have the design -- we're using the same Tony Award-winning set. The archetype of all of these characters is consistent in every production. My job is rebuilding that on a new set of smart, brilliant comedians in a new space."
Because of its myriad physical gags, including a flash fire, faulty props, a shoddy elevator and a hazardous two-tier set, The Play That Goes Wrong has unique directorial challenges. "Like any show, we've had actual technical difficulties," DiCarlo says. "When something doesn't go wrong that's supposed to go wrong, the play has to go right as if the show is just happening. If that shield doesn't fall and whack the inspector in the face, he has to come through the door and keep going. If a set piece doesn't break or something doesn't fall, we all have to act like that's what was supposed to happen. We rehearse both goes right and goes wrong versions of every moment so it doesn't become apparent that anything was missed." Even when something really does go wrong, theatregoers have no idea. Once DiCarlo explained mid-performance that an understudy had to go on due to actor illness, and the audience just assumed it was a joke. "I don't think I ever got laughs on an announcement like that before!" he says.
In addition to his Play That Goes Wrong duties, DiCarlo is currently serving as stage manager for Beetlejuice on Broadway. But on nights he's off, he often pops by New World Stages to make sure everything's still going wrong. "Whitney Keeter, The Play That Goes Wrong's stage manager, is wonderful," he says. "She knows the show inside and out, and the associate director, Mark Evans, was an actor in the Broadway production and helps take unbelievable care of it. People always ask me if I prefer stage managing or directing, but I think the jobs intersect in a way that's more frequent than most people realize. I think having a really good understanding of being a stage manager makes me a good director, and vice versa."
For now, he's content doing both and hopes that The Play That Goes Wrong continues to attract new audiences as well as fans who saw it on Broadway. "It's playing in a theatre that's so much smaller, so we get to dig into the subtlety of the show," he says. "Anytime someone raises an eyebrow or winks, it reads. The energy is truly electric and it's a thrill to watch it with people of all ages laughing their faces off. There's no political point of view. It's just delirious, delicious, madcap fun. I really believe that's what we all need right now."
Top image: Bartley Booz, Brent Bateman, Matt Walker, Chris Lanceley and Ashley Reyes in The Play That Goes Wrong. Photos by Jeremy Daniel.