Lamb’s Players Theatre leads from its strength and takes the trick in producing Philip King’s See How They Run.
Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth has a knack for staging plays from the 1940s. He gets the era, how people talked then, and he’s fascinated with the details of the kind of well-made play that 1940s writers routinely produced. But, these plays today are considered quaint, and they’re seldom done. Mr. Smyth consistently provides persuasive evidence for reviving shows from this period.
He’s also good at directing farce, and See How They Run is a classic 1940s British farce. It should be a winner at Lamb’s and it is.
First produced and set in 1944, the play resembles Agatha Christie to the extent that it gathers up a bunch of British types and then pits them against each other. Only, instead of a mystery to solve, there’s a lot of mistaken identity resulting in much huffing and puffing as doors open and slam shut and characters chase each other around a country vicarage.
Leading the way is the Vicar’s wife, Penelope (Cynthia Gerber), an American former actress who is quite the fish out of water in these parts. Her husband, the Vicar (Jason Heil), is loving but somewhat stolid. He’s worried as well about being accepted by the long-time parishioners in his parish. This group is personified by Miss Skillon (Myra McWethy), a generously-proportioned spinster given to imagining that she has been slighted.
The dynamics among these three characters (plus the maid, played by Kerry Meads) are tested by the unexpected arrival of four individuals: Cliff (Brendan Farley) an actor friend of Penelope’s who is currently serving with U. S. forces in the area, the Bishop of Lax (Jim Chovick), Penelope’s uncle who arrives earlier than expected, Rev. Arthur Humphrey (Paul Maley), who also arrives earlier than expected, and an intruder (Jeffrey Jones), who has escaped from the prison camp where Cliff works as a guard.
Mr. King stirs his stew in the manner of classic farce. He sets up the action in Act 1, gets the pot boiling by running his characters through a series of carefully-timed entrances and exits using multiple doors in Act 2, and then continues the lunacy through to its resolution in Act 3.
The leads have more opportunity to shine than the secondary players. Ms. Gerber has down the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of the 40s heroine (think any film of that period that starred Katherine Hepburn). Ms. McWethy bravely takes on much of the physical comedy. She gamely acts drunk, passes out and allows herself to be hauled around the stage to hilarious effect. Ms. Meads looks way too attractive to play the maid, but she’s got the subversion end of things completely at the ready. Mr. Farley cracks wise with a relaxed style. Mr. Heil, Mr. Jones, Mr. Chovick, and Mr. Maley play the mixed up identities with manic glee. Ron Choularton is fairly well wasted in the minor role of Sergeant Towers, but as a performer whose natural accent is British he does everyone else the favor of not showing them up.
The Lamb’s designers always have a field day with this sort of show, and their work here reflects a solid commitment to craft.
Cooling off in Coronado on a hot August night couldn’t be more enjoyable.