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Fogey Farce 

Theater Review: Swift Creek’s latest comedy features a creaky, 70-year-old script buoyed by fine performances.

click to enlarge Left to Right: Louise Keeton as Penelope Toop, Jacqueline Jones as Miss Skillon, Andrew Hamm as The Reverend Lionel Toop, Liz Ballard Hamm as Ida.

Robyn O'Neill

Left to Right: Louise Keeton as Penelope Toop, Jacqueline Jones as Miss Skillon, Andrew Hamm as The Reverend Lionel Toop, Liz Ballard Hamm as Ida.

If you see enough shows staged by a theater company, then you get a sense of its artistic director's taste.

Former Henley Street Theatre artistic director James Ricks enjoyed brooding Irish dramas. Virginia Rep's Bruce Miller appears to love French comedies. At Swift Creek Mill Theatre in Colonial Heights, Tom Width seems infatuated with our British mates across the pond.

Keeping in this tradition is "See How They Run," an old-school British farce set around World War II. The Rev. Lionel Toop (Andrew Hamm) and his feisty American wife, Penelope (Louise Keeton), are prepping for a visit by Penelope's uncle, a bishop (Jacob Lief). Like many a farce, the plot is immaterial, mainly serving to create absurd situations for its characters to work through.

With the addition of Penelope's old USO buddy Clive (Jesse Mattes), cantankerous church lady Miss Skillon (Jacqueline Jones), maid Ida (Liz Ballard Hamm), the visiting Rev. Arthur Humphre (Steve King) and a Soviet spy on the lam (Jim Morgan), Philip King's script creates all the comedic hallmarks you expect from a farce: Doors are slammed, identities are mistaken and sexually suggestive situations abound.

Width's direction hits some moments of inspired lunacy, but the 70-year-old script creaks with age, in tune with the tastes of a time when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, the average annual salary was $2,400 a year and bread was 9 cents a loaf. Popular comedy styles change with time, and this play feels like an ocean away from modern humor.

Most of the British accents employed by cast members are poor or nonexistent, but the show is buoyed by some good performances. Jones is delightfully loony while she wanders from uptight churchgoer to lust-filled drunk. King brings an impish quality to his reverend reminiscent of the millionaire in "Some Like It Hot." Mattes is appropriately broad as the soldier freaking out because he can't find his uniform. Stomping around the stage, pleading and whimpering, he's a highlight of the show.

While some elements of the show come together, the script feels ancient, filled with stale gags that are visible from a mile away. Perhaps members of a previous generation will get a bigger kick out of the show than I did, but, as with all comedy, it's a matter of taste.

"See How They Run" plays through Oct. 25 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway. For information call 748-5203 or visit swiftcreekmill.com.

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