If scientists ever wanted to determine what gene controls a person's comic timing, they could use the cast of "See How They Run" as test subjects. The actors who run, skip and jump through this slight and silly British farce, currently playing at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre, all have that elusive ability to elicit hearty laughter from even the smallest of jokes. Even when the show stretches credibility to the breaking point, it remains a delightful distraction thanks to the exceptional efforts of the crackerjack cast.
The doctors would first want to check out Debra Wagoner, who is consistently hilarious as an unassuming maid named Ida, who is employed by an upright English vicar, Lionel Toop (Cary Nothnagel) and his maverick American wife, Penelope (Vicki McLeod). When a handsome old friend of Penelope's arrives and the games of mistaken identity begin, it is Wagoner's Ida who provides the comic glue that holds this production together. It is 1949, so the thought of a clergyman's wife spending time with a strange man draws the meddling attention of Miss Skillon (Joy Williams). The catty chemistry between Wagoner and Williams provides the show's best scenes as the arrival of more characters, including an armed Russian spy (Jim Morgan), gives Ida a dozen or so chances to manhandle and demoralize the pious Miss Skillon.
Richard Koch plays Penelope's soldier friend Clive, and he and McLeod radiate a cozy camaraderie that carries the early expositional scenes. Koch is also best able to keep his sensibilities about him when the action of the second act devolves into an extended chase scene involving Clive, the Rev. Toop, the Russian spy and Penelope's uncle, the bishop of Lax (Joe Pabst). This scene would grow interminable if not for the entrance of Paul Deiss as visiting minister the Reverend Humphrey. Deiss' perfectly modulated reactions to the bedlam he walks into are proof positive of an innate timing talent.
While these comic capabilities are clearly in the nature of the actors, they've also been expertly nurtured by director Tom Width. In the past several years, Width has finely honed his faculties for farce so that momentum carries this show swiftly past its bumpier parts. When policeman Sgt. Towers (Jason Sawyer) shows up to sort out the mess, you may wonder why the guy with the Russian accent isn't immediately pegged as the spy. But Width doesn't give you any time to dwell on this triviality as the play gallops on with abandon.
There's also no reason to dwell on the technical aspects of this production as both the set (designed by Width) and lighting (by Bill Jenkins) act as simple and serviceable launching points for the mayhem to come. The show offers few challenges for costume designer Scott Lynwood Joyce as half the cast is clothed in black-on-black clerical suits, though Sergeant Tower's high-water pants are a nice whimsical accent.
And speaking of accents, the "See How They Run" troupe deserves accolades for delivering high-quality British accents, particularly Williams' precise diction. It's just another indication that this cast is genetically predisposed toward delivering a high-quality
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.