Regional Reviews: Phoenix
See How They Run
Also see Gil's recent review of The Wiz
The play is set entirely in the living room of a vicar in a small British village during the 1940s. The plot kicks into gear when Miss Skillon, the local busybody, pays a visit to the home of Reverend Lionel Toop and his American wife who was a former actress, Penelope. Skillon clashes with Penelope and when she sees Penelope reenacting a lover's quarrel scene from Private Lives with her former acting co-star Clive Winton, who is now a corporal stationed at a nearby Army camp and on leave for the night, she sets out to expose what she believes is an illicit affair. What follows is a constantly building crescendo of chaos involving mistaken identities, an escaped German prisoner of war, and a visit from Penelope's uncle, the Bishop of Lax who just happens to arrive earlier than expected. The result is a very funny farce in which identities and misunderstandings pile up on top of each other into a mountain of sheer lunacy.
While the play is very funny, it does take about 15 minutes to set the plot in motion, introduce the characters, and have the humorous situations completely jell. Fortunately, once the insanity starts, the punchlines fly fairly quickly while a parade of characters run into and out of the vicar's house and the hilarity reaches a crescendo, which makes you truly appreciate how well-crafted King's script is, even if it doesn't have any overreaching theme or message. King even adds a fun nod to the absurdity of the plots in farces when, earlier in the plot, he has the character of Clive put on one of the vicar's suits and comment on how what he's doing sounds absurd and like something out of a farce.
Under Tim Dietlein's astute direction, the ensemble cast shines. Gracie Gamble and Josh Hunt work well together as Penelope and Clive, delivering delightful performances that capture the eccentricities of their characters. Ivana Martinic, J. Kevin Tallent, and Cameron Rollins add to the hilarity as Miss Skillon, the Bishop, and Lionel, respectively. Martinic is especially hilarious as the kooky Skillon, Tallent is great as the constantly confused Bishop, and Rollins is fun as the frustrated Vicar. Emma Giffen is an audience favorite and makes a standout Hale debut with her superb portrayal of the feisty Cockney maid, showcasing excellent comedic timing and spot-on line deliveries that get big laughs. In supporting roles, Jack Walton, Justin M. Howell, and Adam Guinn each get a few moments to showcase their comedic charms. Howell is playing the same role as when Hale last presented this production, and the scene in which he has to pretend to drink an imaginary glass of brandy is a comic gem.
Dietlein's direction ensures the cast all create warm and lovable eccentric characters and their adeptness in handling the lunacy and split-second timing required by the play is commendable. Whether executing physical comedy, doing double takes, or delivering punchlines with finesse, the cast navigate the intricate farcical elements with ease. Special mention goes to the hilariously chaotic scenes involving Martinic's character, who becomes a rag doll tossed around by the ensemble.
McKenna Carpenter's set, while static, proves quite effective in creating the necessary atmosphere and, along with the prop design by Liz De La Torre, works well for the period details the show requires. Dietlein's lighting adds vibrancy to the stage, especially for the nighttime scenes, and the the period costumes designed by Celia Erickson are character appropriate. Cambrian James' wig and make-up designs contribute to the overall polished and period-appropriate look of the characters.
See How They Run is a well-crafted comedy, with King's script providing a perfect blend of wit and lunacy. The play takes a short while to set the stage, but once the comedic onslaught begins, it doesn't let up. Dietlein's direction ensures a well-oiled production that captivates with its lunacy, derives some big laughs from the audience, and results in a testament to the enduring appeal of farce.
See How They Run runs through February 10, 2024, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181
Directed by Tim Dietlein
Cast: (in order of appearance)