See How They Run by Philip King. Directed by Kate Gulliver.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Donít bicker, Vicar"
Tracy Trimm, Sarah Cooke, and Mike Sanders; photo: Dan Region
The chase is on!; photo: Dan Region
Farce is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary as 1) a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect; 2) a ludicrous, empty show, a mockery. See How They Run, on stage through June 3 at the Ghent Playhouse is defined as an "Hilarious British Farce" and I must opine that the use of "British" as a modifier changes the dictionary definition markedly. Without a doubt the English theater has created a modified form of comedy, creating a classic structure for what might once have been an empty, ludicrous display of bad behavior, bad language and poor morals. What they have presented us with, a model for contemporary sitcoms, dramedies and other confused television formats, is at the core of what entertains us on a daily basis. Situations that are not necessarily funny become so through the creation of these British-style farce plays. Not all of them are the best. Not all of them thoroughly tickle the funny bone, but if we give ourselves over to the premise that what weíre watching is aimed at amusement and not at destruction of our moral sensibilities, then what we see is very funny indeed.
See How They Run is a farce about moral people caught in a series of dilemmas that could have been avoided if each of the characters would only behave themselves according to the standards of the others. If Corporal Clive Winton, for example, could only observe the proprieties of respect for marriage, much of what follows his entrance into the play would be avoided. If Miss Skillon could take her righteous indignation down a peg she wouldnít end up the mess she turns into after an accident knocks her out cold. If The Bishop of Lax could swallow his religious pride and stay in a hotel, many mistakes of judgement could have been completely deflected. Morever, if the Toops, husband and wife, were better suited to one another the entire play would not exist.
The fact is, however, all of these people, and a few more, do make the normal human mistakes they make and on which this comedy is based. And itís a good thing, too, because the show is funny, the dialogue is silly, the comedy is multi-leveled - even calling in a scene and a song from Noel Cowardís non-farce human comedy with farcical elements, Private Lives. Luckily for local audiences this production of the Episcopal farce is graced with talented actors and a director who knows how to time a door closing.
As the Toops, Ted Phelps and Sarah Cooke set up a pace in the first scene, with tea and muffins and some over-the-top glances, that makes the merriness almost giddy. Fourth onto the stage, Cooke is a vocal presence from the moment the play begins and her off-stage caroling is a hoot in more ways than one. Kathy Wohlfeld as Miss Skillon begins her lengthy turn as an English version of Margaret Hamilton and ends up a demolished Margaret Dumont. Burnell Shively as the cockney maid, Ida, takes on the historic image of a young Angela Lansbury and turns that to her advantage as she flirts, squirms and grinds out some of the funniest moments in the play.
Ted Sickels is Clive. Thatís it. He is Clive. He embodies the role and when his desperation overwhelms his passions he is truly funny. Fred Gibbons is the embodiment of self-righteous indignation and it pays off big in a thankless role. Mike Sanders is hilarious as the Supply Priest who accidentally arrives too early for his own good and the cast is rounded out by Myron Koch as a clueless policeman and Tracy Trimm as an escaped Communist.
Gulliver has her arms full (thereís too much here for just hands) moving this crew of players in, out, around and through her seven doors. She uses the stage masterfully and the chase sequence, which takes much of the company through major dramatic scenes being played out center stage, is truly hilarious.
Bill Camp has provided a perfect setting for this midland Vicarage in the late 1940s and the costumes by Vivian Wachsberger and Joanne Maurer are wonderful.
This is a fine example of why farce is a secretly respected form. Not the depressing, meaningful, informational dramas we are supposed to like, in spite of ourselves, plays like See How They Run entertain us, give us a momentary glimpse into the morality of our neighbors and a chance to view just how easily we can slip into our own peculiar comic worlds. All it takes is an extra suit or clothing or two, an escaped Communist and an American soldier converging on your home at the same time and, Good Lord, it could happen to you. Thatís farce.
See How They Run plays at the Ghent Playhouse, located just off Route 66 in Ghent, New York, through June 3. Tickets range in price from $12 to $15 and the box office can be reached at 518-392-6264. Memberships and season tickets are available. You can also go to their website at www.ghentplayhouse.org.