"See How They Run" is the perfect title for Philip King's farce, which Shakespeare & Co. opened last night at the Trapier Theater.
The characters dash between mistaken identities and embarrassing clinches without the slightest pause for thought. They are hardly recognizable as human characters. The whole breathless enterprise resembles a dog race, with the characters alternating between the roles of the dogs and the roles of the mechanical rabbits.
Speed and style are of the essence. Edward Crow's production generally moves along fast enough, but in who key roles the style is lacking.
We are in a vicarage in Merton-Cum-Middlewick, England. Penelope Toop, ex-actress, is beginning to chafe under the burdens of being a proper vicar's wife. Her chief critic is sour Miss Skillon, who once had an eye for the Rev. Toop herself. They are joined by Penelope's former comrade, now a G.I.: by her uncle the bishop, who wants to give Toop a promotion: by a Soviet spy on the lam; by a meek visiting vicar who hopes to stay with the Toops. The maid, of course, watches all and comments loudly on developments in thick Cockney.
Penelope is closer to the center of the play than anyone else, and Caroline Cromelin is too young for the role. This sort of miscasting is something of a habit with Shakespeare & Co., and it all too often imparts the air of a senior class play to the group's work, Penelope should have the self-confidence of an actress with years of touring behind her, and the sardonic sense of a sophisticated woman bored with provincial life. Cromelin is too fresh-faced and squeaky-sounding.
James Michael, playing her uncle, is not nearly stately and commanding enough; only if the character comes on like Professor Kingsfield does his subsequent bewilderment produce the required comic nonsense.
However, John Gilliss and John Shuman strike the right notes as the younger vicars - thoughtful and mild souls whose cloaks of civility fade but never quite vanish as the evening's lunacy progress. The contrast between their gentle demeanor and their entrapment in the craziness is the source of some rich comedy. Effectively enacting the more down-to-earth characters are Paul Norwood as the G.I., Anne Stone as the maid and Jim Tibbetts as the cop.
Tait Ruppert is stuck with the strangest role in the play, the "ruddy Red" spy. "See How They Run" could be entered in a festival of Cold War Relics.
Nevertheless, relics can be fun. "See How They Run" is not in the most skilled hands at the Trapier, but it's good for a few quick laughs.