The spectacle of British people (stereotypically more uptight and repressed than Americans) landing in humorous situations is one reason that British comedy is often funnier than ours, at least from an American point of view. This observation definitely applies to the new Tabard Theatre production of Philip King’s See How They Run, in which a respectable English vicarage becomes a madhouse of hilarity. This classic 1940s farce comes complete with many of the genre’s hallmarks: slapstick humor, mistaken identity and a large cast of characters constantly running in and out of doors.

It’s difficult to decide which of these characters is the most entertaining. The town busybody, Miss Skillon (Jean Marie Perchalski), arrives at the vicarage to complain about the way the pulpit has been decorated before she is knocked unconscious, liquored up with a bottle of cooking sherry and shoved into a cupboard (this is much funnier than it sounds). The vicar himself (Ron Packard) is a fuddy-duddy who, ironically, spends most of the play dashing around in his underwear while his sexy wife, Penelope (Kayla Berghoff), has her own misadventures, beginning with the arrival of her old friend Clive (Josiah Frampton), who disguises himself as a vicar.
Added to the mix are Penelope’s uncle, the Bishop of Lax (John Baldwin), another vicar (Ed Pansullo) and an escaped Russian spy (Jason Minsky) disguised as (what else?) a vicar. The churchmen show amusing bewilderment at the awkward situations that occur, despite the efforts of Penelope and her flirtatious Cockney maid Ida (Lorie Goulart) to make everything appear normal.

This is lightweight entertainment that throws logic out the window, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The exciting cast, combined with Jerry Lloyd’s nimble direction, keeps the play satisfying throughout. Mention should also be made of Gerald Carter’s set design. Not all plays call for elaborate sets, but in this case, with so much of the humor derived from the setting, it’s good to see what looks very much like an English vicarage.

When See How They Run premiered at London’s West End in 1945, war still raged across Europe and three bombs exploded near the theater. Despite these disturbances, nobody left until the end—the play was too funny. While it may not command quite the same appreciation from today’s audiences, King’s farce is still good for a laugh, or rather, several dozen laughs.

See How They Run
Tabard Theatre
Through Feb. 20
Theatre on San Pedro Square, San Jose
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