Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 18, 2012

See How They Run

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 26, 2012
by Kait Rankins

Barrington Stage's production of Philip King's farce "See How They Run" is the story of Penelope Toop (Lisa McCormick), a former actress who has married Reverend Lionel Toop (Cary Donaldson), the vicar of an English village. Thanks to her free spirit and modern mindset, she struggles with fitting in - frequently drawing the ire of the buttoned-up Miss Skillon (Michele Tauber). When Clive (Michael Brusasco), an old acting friend who is now a British soldier, comes to call, Penelope insists on seeing a production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives," a play they toured in years ago. There's only one catch: Clive can't travel too far away from where he's stationed. If he's seen in his uniform, the consequences are dire. Refusing to take "no" for an answer, Penelope dresses Clive in the vicar's clothes to allow him an escape for the evening.

"I've played in too many plays where characters have done this sort of thing, and something's always gone wrong," warns Clive. He's right: what follows is a madcap plot relying heavily on wordplay, physical comedy, mistaken identity, slamming doors, elaborate chase scenes, and no fewer than four men dressed in identical clothes.

With the play's frothy, lighthearted subject matter and broadly-drawn characters, it seems easy to dismiss it as an easy play to perform; it isn't. Director Jeff Steitzer and fight choreographer Ryan Winkles had their work cut out for them in crafting a fast-paced comedic spectacle that relies on timing and complicated movement. The nine actors must work as a team as if they're partners in a dance. If one visual gag fails, the breakneck momentum of the play is lost.

They succeed. In fact, they succeed so well that it all appears effortless. Each character is a piece of a puzzle, where timing is everything. Characters are drawn with a broad brush, but they're played with skill and precision. Despite the ridiculous nature of events, actors never cross into self-indulgence and mugging. While all members of the ensemble excel in their roles, Dina Thomas, Michele Tauber and Jeff Brooks give standout performances.

"See How They Run" is a feat of comedic skill and the perfect summer treat.