Tuesday, August 21, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "See How They Run" at Lamb's Players Theatre

“They Run” Quite Well
Strong acting elevates Philip King’s old-fashioned, humorous tour-de-farce

By Donnie Matsuda

When See How They Run opened in London’s West End in 1945, life was quite different than it is today. 

World War II had terrorized Europe for years and London was a drab and exhausted city, largely defeated but ready to begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding from the ground up.  It is perhaps no surprise that many Londoners escaped to the theatre to lift their spirits and those who attended the premiere of See How They Run got a special surprise.  During the opening night performance, several flying bombs exploded just outside the theatre.  But despite the chaos around them, not one of the audience members left the play, as they were transfixed by the hilarity and high jinks onstage.  While such a thing could probably not happen today, Lamb's Players current revival of this charming, chuckle-inducing play does what it can to inject a few laughs into a mostly delightful evening of theatre.

Brendan Farley, Cynthia Gerber, and Jim Chovick in Lamb's Players "See How They Run."  Photo by Ken Jacques.
The play, written by Philip King and directed by Lamb’s Players Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth, is set in an English vicarage circa 1944 (here majestically recreated by Mike Buckley’s spacious living room set sprawled out in front of a giant British flag).  As the story goes, Penelope Toop (a bubbly and warm Cynthia Gerber) has given up her exciting life as a famed actress and is now living a more *ahem* “respectable” life as the devoted wife of Reverend Lionel Toop (a calm and collected Jason Heil who soon sheds his sanity along with his clothes and spends most of the play in his boxers and wielding a golf club).  Unfortunately, many of the townsfolk don’t approve of Penelope’s wild ways, and it all comes to a head when the meddlesome town gossip Miss Skillon (a prim Myra McWethy) comes banging on the vicarage door to inquire about why she wasn’t allowed to decorate the church pulpit, as she has done in years past.  Somehow, she ends up unconscious, drugged into a stupor by an overdose of cooking sherry, and crammed into a coat closet with the Reverend himself…and that’s all before intermission!

Myra McWethy and Jason Heil.  Photo by Ken Jacques.
Meanwhile, Penelope has her own madcap misadventures as her old acting partner Cliff (a dashing Brendan Farley) shows up unannounced and quickly piques the interest of Ida (a flirty Kerry Meads), the vicarage’s saucy Cockney maid.  As farce would have it, Cliff must disguise his military persona if he is to go out into civilian life, so he dons one of the vicar’s suits and goes out for a night on the town with Penelope.  And since mistaken identity is so crucial to plays of this sort, King makes sure there are plenty of opportunities for that to occur.  As if two vicars wasn’t enough, he adds to the mix another legit vicar, the Reverend Arthur Humphrey (an appropriately demure Paul Maley), a visiting bishop who arrives for his stay a day early (a befuddled Jim Chovick), and a Russian intruder (an eerie Jeffery Jones) who disguises himself as – you guessed it – a vicar.        

This might seem like a few too many vicars for the play’s own good, but it all comes together quite nicely under Robert Smyth’s crisp direction.  What is so delightful about Smyth’s staging is that he nimbly approaches his cast as though they are normal people who get trapped in outrageous situations.  That’s exactly what you need if an old-fashioned farce filled with silly scenarios is to come across as credible, engaging, and ultimately, entertaining.  And Smyth’s veteran ensemble cast succeeds in taking the preposterous and making it plausible, all the while featuring some incredibly fine performances, a handful of brilliantly staged comedic sequences, and a number of truly hysterical moments. 

Kerry Meads, Paul Maley and Myra McWethy.  Photo by Ken Jacques.
All in all, See How They Run is an extremely amusing play and while there may not be flying bombs being dropped outside the theatre doors, the audiences for this Lamb's Players production will no doubt stay and be treated to an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud evening of hilarious high jinks and madcap merriment.

Things to know before you go: See How They Run plays at Lambs Players Theatre through September 23rd, 2012.  Running time is Three Acts in 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.  Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.  Ticket prices are $26-$64.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call (619) 437-6000 or visit www.lambsplayers.org.

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