SEE HOW THEY RUNBy Philip King
Directed by Robin Armstrong
Set Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design - John Leach
Sound Design - David H. M. Lambert
Props Design - Meredith Hinton
Miss Skillon - Becca Shivers
Lance-Corporal Clive Winton - Mark Shum
The Bishop of Lax - David H. M. Lambert
The Reverend Arthur Humphrey - R. Bradford Smith
Sergeant Towers - Tyler Cochran
The Reverend Lionel Toop - Christopher Curtis
Penelope Toop - Sherry Hopkins
Ida, a Maid - Hannah McKinney
The Intruder - Eric Dobbins
Reviewed Performance: 8/11/2012
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It wasn't always so. In 1941 London was bombed nightly for 76 days and the English suffered horrors and destruction few have experienced. On June 6th, 1944, the largest armada in history approached the coast of Normandy to take the war back to Germany. A year later, the war was over. Throughout these years, the British people persevered.
The London Olympics reminded us how stoic and steadfast the British were during the war. It's become a character trait we often mock, but in the midst of daily bombings, Brits went on with their lives. Work was done. Art was created. Plays were written. And life carried on. One of those plays was written by Philip King, an actor. In '42 he wrote a short play called Moon Madness. By '44, while the Allies pushed towards Berlin, he added a 2nd act to Moon Madness and it became See How They Run. It premiered in '44, opened in the West End in January '45, and reached America in '49.
See How They Run is not about war. It is about the stoic and steadfast Brits and their strong sense of proper behavior. It's about vicars and their tribulations during a crazy time of history. And it's about misunderstandings.
Circle Theater, whose mission is "?the advocacy of contemporary plays rarely seen in our community," brought this play to Sundance Square and did Philip King and Fort Worth a great service.
See How They Run, named for the nursery rhyme, is set in the living room of the local Vicar of Merton-cum-Middlewick (don't look on the map). It's a classical English farce with tense comic situations, intense humor, mistaken identities, doors, and vicars.
Circle Theatre uses a small thrust stage. For See How They Run, Clare Floyd DeVries designed a very simple living room with colors in browns and tans, very conservative. Walls were hard dark wood. Sparse, simple furnishings, reminiscent of a country cottage, filled part of the stage though lots of empty space was left for acrobatics. Numerous doorways allowed for simultaneous entrances and exits. John Leach created lighting with minute highlights amidst the bright coverage required of comedy. There were sound effects and light music at times, but they were minimal, probably because David H. M. Lambert both designed sound and played a major character in the play.
The challenge with this small thrust stage was a lack of sight lines. There were several times when audience was blocked from actors and action by an actor in the action. A thrust stage with three perspectives is bound to block some audience at times but blocking all the action and characters is unusual. On the whole however, the set balanced 1940s British comfort with enough space to enact large amounts of physical comedy. It needed it.
Robin Armstrong directed a strong cast, experienced professionals who could work with her extreme pace and who could maintain character in the midst of the Three Stooges-like pratfalls and comic violence.
The Reverend Lionel Toop, the Vicar, was played by Christopher Curtis with a mixture of uppity British conservatism and zaniness due to lack of understanding what was happening around him. His wife, Penelope, was played by Sherry Hopkins as the American-raised actress who returned to her birth home in a stodgy town where her overt sexiness and devil-may-care outlook was an insult. It was most insulting to her nemesis, Miss Skillon, played by Becca Shivers. Shivers gave Skillon's uppity outrage a dash of jealousy and resentment to put the house into hilarious chaos.
Hannah McKinney created a perfect foil to Skillon. Her Ida the maid showed low-brow servitude balanced with high-brow intelligence. It was her commentary and all-knowing looks and facial expressions that gave much of this play its constant comedic life.
Into this peaceful, if erratic, household enters a series of vicars. American soldier, Clive Winton, played by Mark Shum, arrives to visit Penelope, his old stage partner. Their plan to see Noel Coward's Private Lives in the next town leads him to impersonate an expected visiting vicar. Then the Bishop of LAX, played by David Lambert, who happens to be Penelope's uncle, arrives unexpectedly a day early, carrying a large amount of church authority and a need to protect his niece like a father. In time the real expected vicar, Arthur Humphrey, as played by R. Bradford Smith, arrives. Eric Dobbins plays The Intruder, a Russian escaped prisoner who manages to strip Reverend Toop of his priestly garb, converting himself into a vicar imposter. And into this cauldron of mistaken identities, Sergeant Towers, played by Tyler Cochran, arrives to chase down the prisoner. Four vicars, a dedicated British soldier and three stoic women - one drunk, one
suspicious and one who knew the truth but couldn't say anything - and you have the ingredients for the funniest of the British farces.
What made this group so funny was their attention to the serious nature of their purpose at the vicarage. Shum made Clive an American patriot, aware of his precarious position in this foreign country. Lambert showed an expected haughtiness of a church father and an outrage at seeing the strange activities in his niece's house. Smith gave Vicar Humphrey the appropriate prim and proper air for a guest from another parish. Dobbins' Intruder had a bit of intrigue and a lot of danger. Add Curtis' Toop in underwear, with utter confusion about everything, and Cochran's Sergeant Towers, resolutely planning to find the escaped prisoner, and this stage came alive with mayhem.
The audience on this opening night howled with laughter through most of the show and the cast allowed laughs to add to the intensity of the comedy while they forged ahead at breakneck speed. On this night every actor was about as funny as an actor can get, and very good at holding their character throughout the laughter. But Becca Shivers stole the night with the funniest physical acrobatics I've seen in awhile. At one point she and her partner, David Lambert, lost control and played while laughing at the absolute hilarity of the action. The audience nearly stopped the show to applaud their work. It was a side-splitting acting job in the midst of a whole night of slapstick humor of the best kind.
During the 1945 West End opening of See How They Run, just three months before the fall of Berlin, Philip King said, "-the play went like a bomb - even three 'doodlebugs' dropped during the performance." Doodlebug was the British term for a German V-1 flying bomb. The Brits were a stoic group.
You could say the same for our intrepid cast at Circle Theatre. To say more about this wonderful play and the job Circle did with it would be unjust and give too much away. Just get over there by September 8th and experience these stoic Brits. But get in shape. You'll need it.
230 West Fourth Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102
Located in the Sundance Square Entertainment District
Runs through September 8th
Thursdays at 7:30pm / Fridays at 8:00pm / Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Tickets range from $20.00 - $30.00
For information and tickets, go to www.circletheatre.com or call their box office at 817.877.3040.