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Theater Review: Running In Circles, Eliciting Laughs In Sherman

SHERMAN — Philip King’s See How They Run, written in the 1940s, was considered a farce because its plot requires the frequent use of four doors, a chest, and mistaken identities. What makes it different from the French style of farce which inspired many other British entertainments, is that as opposed to vehicles like Run For Your Wife and Not Now Darling, its characters are not up to any kind of hanky panky — that is, they are not practicing, nor attempting to practice, adultery, or trying to pull a fast one on the government by making false claims for welfare benefits.

Rather, set in the rural vicarage at Merton-Cum-Middlewick, See How They Run features a cast of characters reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Saint Mary’s Mead (minus the sharp-eyed insights of Miss Marple).

In production at The Sherman Playhouse until May 18, this work concerns The Reverend Lionel Toop’s frisky young American wife, Penelope. A former actress, preacher’s wife has incited the enmity of Miss Skillon, a local spinster.

Penelope’s “crimes?” She wears trousers, she was seen waving merrily at a jeep driven by a soldier from the local military base, and worst of all she has had the audacity to decorate the pulpit for the Harvest Festival, a task which had always been the province of Miss Skillon herself.

When the good Reverend Toop goes off to spend the night out of town (filling in for a missing piano player at a village concert), Penelope receives an unexpected visit from the soldier, Corporal Clive Winton — an old friend and fellow actor from her touring days. Because he mustn’t be seen in uniform off his base, she lends him one of her husband’s clerical outfits so that they can go to a performance of a Noel Coward play in the next village.

Miss Skillon stumbles upon them re-enacting a scene from the play, is accidentally hit on the head, and loses her wits and her superego. Add to this mix Penelope’s uncle, the Bishop of Lax (another visiting clergyman), the Reverend Arthur Humphrey (who has come to be a guest preacher the next morning) and an escaped Russian spy armed with a poker,  searching for a disguise to replace his prison garb, and suddenly there are lots of men in collars and black suits.

Best of all is the implacable housemaid, Ida. From loyalty to her mistress and a desire for a bit of excitement, Ida is perfectly ready to solve embarrassing moments by stuffing people in the broom closet, declaring all the while that “my lips are sealed!”

Director Francis A. Daley has milked laughs from the procession of “clergymen” being chased by the poker-wielding spy, and even more from the antics of Keli Solomon, as the stodgy Miss Skillon, whose acrobatic tumbles reveal an unfortunate display of pink bloomers. For this reviewer, however, the show is stolen by Sara Panaccio as the resourceful Ida, whose body language and facial expressions convey a riot of emotion.

Kimberly Marcus is appealing as Penelope Toop, as are Steve Stott as her devoted husband, Chris Marker as her soldier friend, Michael Wright as her uncle the bishop, and Dean Alexander as the bemused guest preacher. There is no problem with any of their performances; it is just that their characters lack the traditional traits usually associated with farce —that is, either wickedness that must be punished, hypocrisy that must be skewered (as Miss Skillon’s sort of is), or stupidity that must be revealed.

As the murderous spy, and the military policeman chasing him, Peter Pecora and James Doherty chew the scenery as stereotypical characters are wont to do.

In short, this is a pleasant, harmless, amusing piece of theater, even if it is a little bit dated. (Although I’m not sure why it was updated to make the escaped villain a Russian spy in the 1960s, when King wrote him as a German POW in World War II.)

(Performances continue weekends until May 18, on Friday and Saturday evenings. There are Sunday matinees scheduled for May 4 and 18.

For full curtain, ticket, reservation and other information, call 860-354-3622 or visit ShermanPlayers.org.)

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