The British are coming! The British are coming! Or maybe I should say the British are running! They’re running circles all around and through the vicarage of Merton-cum-Middlewick or at the very least all over the stage at Greenbelt Arts Center as Philip King’s See How They Run launches for the holidays. Directed by Ann Lowe-Barrett, this uproarious farce of mistaken identity, headlong humors, and British wit will have you rolling in the aisles with laughter, good luck keeping track of all the vicars!
Set Designer Bob Kleinberg takes the audience on a time trip straight back to 1948 in the English countryside. The quaint interior of the vicarage is modest yet livable and really allows the focus to settle on the actors rather than their surroundings. The myriad of doors are a necessity in a farce and Kleinberg has them excellently placed allowing for maximum comic impact. He keeps the furnishings to a suitable minimum to prevent actual chaos during moments of comic calamity.
When attempting to execute a British farce the accents are vital. Dialect Coach Pauline Griller-Mitchell exceeds expectations with her work in this cast. There are varying degrees of British sound, from the reserved polished proper sound of the vicar to crass cockney sound of the house maid and a little bit of everything in-between. Griller-Mitchell also works with the two Americans and the Russian in the production to ensure that they sound equally as authentic.
In a farce where a good deal of the comedy comes from the action, tightly woven scenes of physical humor can make or break the show. Combat Choreographer Christa Campbell keeps the punches swinging and the fight scene looking fabulous. The intense scene at the very end of act I involves a series of intricate physical battles that could easily end up looking quite phony but Campbell’s attention to detail ensures that this scene is executed without a hitch. The humorous battles as the vicars run round the house are hysterical and also have a realistic feel to them thanks to Campbell’s hard work.
While Humphrey (Ray Converse) and The Bishop (David Berkenbilt) may arrive late in the game they are certainly not players to be overlooked. Both actors become easily exasperated as the situation grows more peculiar with every passing minute. Converse does a smashing job of playing bewildered while trying not to let all the insanity creep over him, but near the end of the show he makes a convincing plea of having himself gone bonkers. Berkenbilt does an exceptional job with playing the blustering old windbag Bishop, really laying on the Catholic guilt with his reprimands and the way he bumbles about the house.
Playing at opposing ends of the spectrum is Miss Skillon (Carleigh Jones) and Ida (Rachel Duda). Between them the pair have remarkable comic timing and a keen understanding of physical comedy and British wit. Jones plays the rigid prim and proper town gossip while Duda plays the cockney crass house maid. Jones uses a snippy clipped down and shrill delivery of words to emphasize her character’s self importance but as the play progresses the wild side becomes unleashed, making for a dynamic performance. The drunken antics, refined down to the way in which she speaks, makes for uproarious moments of hilarious chaos.
Duda, as the all-knowing servant is equally enjoyable, really landing the heavier laugh lines with laser-focused precision. Her accent never falters and she struts about the house with an air of confidence above what her pay station would suggest. It’s her reaction to all of the shenanigans occurring around her that is truly priceless, especially when it comes to dealing with all the wayward and confusing identities of the many men in the house.
The Vicar (Brendan Perry) is an easily ruffled fellow. Perry is a man who understands the importance of happenstance comedy and executes his moments of sheer comic brilliance with finesse. Some of his funniest moments are not when he’s speaking but prowling about the house in his underpants or desperately trying to avoid the advances of Miss Skillon. Getting all tangled up in the case of the mistaken vicar only adds comedy to the situation because Perry expresses his exasperation in a melodramatic fashion that lends itself to the comic nature of the show.
Clive (Mike Larson) and Penelope (Elizabeth Dapo) are the comic king and queen in this ridiculously hysterical production. Larson delivers deadpan and sarcasm and hilarious zapping wit, often with one-lined zingers, and has a firm handle on the delivery of his physical comedy. Situational humor arises and he tackles it with a zesty flare. Dapo has the sound of Hollywood in her voice; the perfect match for her former-actress character. When she delves into moments of melodramatic hysterics, usually with Larson, she draws laughter by the barrel forth from the audience. The pair plays exceedingly well together, crafting comic moments to die for that will keep you in stitches until the humorous, albeit happy, conclusion of the show. Brilliant acting all around but especially from these two when it comes to just carrying moments of the show that are necessary to keep things moving forward; a true understanding of how to make comedy work in a show without forcing it.
It’s the farce you’ll want to light your holiday fire with; too funny for words and a great time to be had by all, be sure to come and See How They Run before they run right out of town!
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.