SEE HOW THIS WARTIME FARCE HOLDS UP
The marquee outside of Lamb’s Players declares See How They Run to be “one of the funniest shows ever.” While never achieving a promise as great as that, Lamb’s has resurrected a sixty-year-old gem with good effect and more than enough laughs.
As staged farces go, this one meets the criteria: tremendous misunderstandings, mistaken identities, tightly-timed exits/entrances, and bold characters with big reactions. While there may be some situational incongruencies, the broad nature of the comedy lends itself to the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept the plot-thickening fun.
It’s 1944 in small town England, and the stodgy vicar Lionel Toop (Jason Heil) has married free-thinking American actress Penelope (Cynthia Gerber), a fish out of water in his community. Her nemesis, holier-than-thou parishioner Miss Skillon (Myra McWethy), revels in finding fault with Penelope and complains to her beloved vicar whenever possible. Trouble ensues when Cliff (Brendan Farley), an American actor/friend from Penelope’s past, sneaks off the army base to surprise her with a visit: as Penelope simply cannot be seen cavorting with another man, Cliff dons one of Lionel’s vicar suits so they can hit the town. Throw in an escaped Nazi prisoner who also dresses the part of the vicar, a visit from the Bishop of Lax (Jim Chovick), and a maid who never quite comprehends what she keeps walking in on, and you’ve certainly got a funny script on your hands. But even with playwright Philip King’s witty repartee, the shenanigans could easily become silly were it not for both the cast’s bright performances and Robert Smyth’s razor-sharp direction.
Indeed, the writing in the first fifteen minutes or so is a bit stiff, with enough exposition to sink a U-Boat, and more uses of the word “Darling” than should be allowed by law; had this not actually been written in the forties, it would have come across like a forced attempt to make it sound like a period piece. Once the farcical elements begin falling into place, though, this is quickly forgiven, and King’s farce brilliantly snowballs to a satisfying conclusion (Michael Frayn claimed that this play inspired his Noises Off).
Gerber often hits-the-mark with the pivotal role of Penelope, but a hint of Rosalind Russell or Eve Arden’s sauciness would have helped to truly pull off the misfit American. Lamb’s staple Kerry Meads finds her best role to date as Ida the maid, whose good intentions to decipher the madness make her the most likeable and funniest character of the bunch. If Meads and her big reactions don’t steal the show, it’s only because of the adroit physical comedy of Myra McWethy as the audacious busybody we love to hate. Rounding out the impeccable cast are Jeffrey Jones as an intruder, Paul Maley as Rev. Arthur Humphrey, and Ron Choularton as Sergeant Towers
The 1942 play was revised in 1945 with some distinct alterations, including the conversion of Penelope from British to American; either way, See How They Run would have been bold in the years between 1942 and 1944, with its teasing of Nazis and sexual innuendo. By 2012 standards, though, See How They Run is safe fun for all and more than worthy of a jaunt over to Coronado.
photos by Ken Jacques
See How They Run
Lambs Players Theatre in Coronado/San Diego (Regional Theater)
scheduled to end on Sept 23, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.LambsPlayers.org