What would regional and community theaters do without British farce? It’s hard indeed to imagine a theater season without a Ray Cooney comedy like Run For Your Wife, a Joe Orton confection, Michael Frayne’s Noises Off, or a laugh-getter by the almost impossibly prolific Alan Ayckbourn.  The granddaddy of all contemporary British farces may well be Philip King’s 1945 gem See How They Run, and those wanting to experience British humor at its funniest are hereby advised to catch the King classic’s spiffy new production at Glendale Centre Theatre.

Like any farce worth its (funny) money, See How They Run features improbable situations, characters in disguise being mistaken for other characters in-or-out of disguise, double entendre and word play, loads of physical comedy, and a plot that zips by lickety-split, ending in the chase sequence that gives the play its title. 

See How They Run centers around a day and night in the lives of young country vicar Lionel Toop (Evan Marquez) and his madcap American wife, former actress Penelope Toop (Alana Antolak). The day begins with a visit from town spinster Miss Skillon (Minda Grace Ware), a still youngish woman who has always had her sights set on the good-looking vicar and who is none too pleased by his marriage to Penelope, a chippie who not only “yoo-hoos” to soldiers she sees riding through town in jeeps but has had the audacity to decorate the church altar in Miss Skillon’s stead—with turnips and leaks in place of chrysanthemums. 

Miss Skillon soon heads off, as does Lionel, who’s been asked to fill in for an ailing pianist at a Glee Singers’ concert.  Their departures are quickly followed by the arrival of the American soldier Penelope was caught yoo-hooing at. The young man in question turns out to be none other than Army Corporal Clive Winton (Mark Pamplin), Penelope’s onetime Private Lives costar. When Penelope and Clive discover that a local little theater group is presenting the saidsame Noël Coward classic only a few miles away, the two decide to head on over to the neighboring village where it’s playing, though not before Clive changes into one of Lionel’s two spare vicar suits (in order to avoid arrest).  It’s a fair guess that by See How They Run’s end, there will be a minimum of three (if not four or even five) men dressed as vicars sharing space on Glendale Centre Theatre’s in-the-round stage, a suspicion bolstered by the arrival of an escaped Russian prisoner (Gary Shaw) in need of a change of clothing, the very authentic Reverend Humphrey (Todd Andrew Ball), and the equally bona fide Bishop Of Lax (Richard Large), both of whom are already wearing their own clerical suits.

Oh, and there’s also the Toops’ saucy maid Ida (Katie Pelensky) and a police constable (Rick Lawrence) to complete the picture. 

See How They Run’s dandy director James Castle Stevens has assembled a cast of expert farceurs for this production, a mix of GCT vets (this is Large’s 17th GCT show and Pamplin’s 18th!), GCT newcomers (including Antolak and Shaw) and recent SoCal transplants (Pelensky is an L.A. newbie and Marquez is recently arrived from Colorado).  The ensemble’s crackerjack timing two nights ago revealed no opening night jitters, and will only get sharper during the show’s six-week run.

Laughs in See How They Run are pretty much evenly divided between King’s often risqué verbal humor and I Love Lucy-esque physical comedy. Ware gets some of the best double entendres, as when she responds to Lionel’s offer to see her to her bicycle with a haughty, “I’m perfectly capable of mounting myself,” or (referring to her bike’s flat tire), “I’m having a little trouble with my inner tube.” Then there are the hilarious fight (and flight) sequences which the cast execute with vigor and finesse.

There’s not a weak link in the ensemble cast.  Antolak is a terrific comedienne/leading lady and Marquez combines charm and comic chops in equal measure. Ware, a statuesque beauty not afraid of broad physical comedy, is a hoot as Miss Skillon. Pamplin too is an adept laugh-getter as are Lawrence and Ball, the latter of whose Act Three appearance is well worth waiting for. Large is, of course, never less than excellent, and Shaw’s prisoner is hilarious, especially when the very Russian intruder assumes a perfect Oxford accent when impersonating a Brit, only to lose it completely when he reverts to being himself. Best of all is the delectable Pelensky, who is both cute as a button and funny as all get out as “not afraid to speak ‘er mind” Ida. 

Tim Dietlein’s vicarage living room set design makes great use of Glendale Centre Theatre’s “audience-on-all-four-sides” stage, placing spectators smack dab in the middle of the action. As always, Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have provided period-perfect outfits, including five (count’em!) clerical suits, a WWII British Army uniform, and a prison uniform with a big fat P on it (for prison?).

Glendale Centre Theatre may be best known for its musicals, which make up more than half of its eight-play season, but as their current production proves, its directors and casts are equally adept at non-musicals like See How They Run. In their skilled hands, this 55-year-old farce remains every bit as funny today as it was back in the 1940s. 

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
December 30, 2009

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