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Comedy Tonight

by James Yeara on August 16, 2012

See How They Run
By Philip King, directed by Jeff Steitzer Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, through Aug. 26

See How They Run is tons of fun. When this 1943 British farce sticks it into high gear, the rowdy chase leading into intermission seems to follow the audience to the concessions and back in after the interval to begin the last act, keeping the patrons laughing and regaling each other with cries of, “Did you see that?”

Barrington Stage Company is ending its summer with the funniest show of the season, one that earns its laughs the old-fashion way: good writing, sure direction, smart production, fantastic physicality, and spot-on timing. See it, and laugh out loud.

This farce has everything a classic comedy needs—take notes, Williamstown Theatre Festival. There’s a comfortable set with many doors and entranceways, courtesy of Bill Clarke’s sharp scenic design; costumes that suit the time, place, and characters, thanks to clever costume design by Sara Jean Tosetti; lighting that sets mood, conveys time, and creates magic, in this case the warm late afternoon sunshine of the play’s start and the mischievous moonlight of the last act, thanks to Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design; and direction that suits the play, the pace, and the actors, from director Jeff Steitzer. A seldom-performed 1943 British play that could have been musty or pretentious was cheery, well-timed, and deucedly funny. Filled with misprisions and non sequiturs, a dash of the alienation effect, a twist of Bergson’s Bionics, See How They Run is stirred just right to make the perfect comic cocktail.

The play’s tale centers on the comings and goings on one late September afternoon through early the next morning at the Hall at the Vicarage, Merton-cum-Middlewick. BSC’s nine-actor cast keeps the doings brisk and giddy. See How They Run begins with Penelope Toop (Lisa McCormick), the newish wife of the Reverend Lionel Toop (Cary Donaldson), singing piercingly off-stage; the maid, Ida (Dina Thomas), struggles to bring on a tray of tea and muffins just as the parish’s fussy old maid Miss Skillon (a divine Michele Tauber) barges in through the French doors to lodge a complaint against the vicar’s wife.

The wife is a former actress, the vicar has an obligation that will keep him away that evening, Ida is man-crazy, and Miss Skillon has chips the size of her hips on her shoulders: All elements are woven quickly together and with punch. Add in the wife’s former acting-partner-turned-soldier Clive Winton (Michael Brusasco), and a bishop (Keith Jochim) who mistakes an escaped Nazi POW (Jim Schubin) for the vicar and the amiable Miss Skillon for a cat birthing kittens. Not only does all that make perfect sense, but it’s damned funny, too.

The central misprision—Clive has to wear Lionel’s clergy-wear to pass as a reverend—gets double, triple, and quadruple play both when the escaped Nazi passes himself off as Lionel, and, in one of the production’s funniest moments, the Reverend Humphrey (Jeff Brooks) drinks an imaginary cocktail as Clive pretends to be Lionel and pretending to be Humphrey; when you bring the house down with a bit wordless lazzi with an invisible glass, you’ve created something rare and magical.

See How You Run hasn’t nudged its way into the hallowed halls of comedy with The Importance of Being Earnest or Blithe Spirit or On The Razzle, but Wilde, Coward, and Stoppard should make a little elbow room for King, because BSC’s See How They Run is the dog’s bollocks.