REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
After experiencing Philip King’s comic farce See How the Run, which opens tonight at the Ojai Art Center, one can easily figure out where the title came from: bringing to mind a trio of mice, with their tails cut off, frantically dashing about in random directions. The new production of this play, produced by and starring The Three Masketeers, is another in a series of knockabout British comedies that requires sturdy doors and even sturdier actors with loud voices to pull it off, and this bunch does so with great skill, comic ability, and probably a few bumps and bruises as well.
There are actually four Masketeers, as founding members Brittany Danyel, Hanna Mitchell, and Ezra Eells were joined by Aaron Gardner, who was added to the group too late to be reflected in the team’s name. In the several shows we’ve seen them in, we’ve already been able to establish broadly drawn characters for each: Danyel is either the leading lady or love interest, Mitchell employs a knack for dialect comedy and uproarious facial expressions, Eells gets most of the physical pratfalls, and Gardner is the straight-arrow male lead who often degenerates into a candidate for the looney bin. Of course, all four are too talented to be typecast by these generalized parameters and we look forward to seeing an expansion of their abilities in future shows.
See How They Run bears a likeness to its cousin, Michael Frayne’s Noises Off, with the two sharing a number of attributes. Both include multiple door slams and romantic entangles, characters that multiply themselves to the point of confusion to all, alcohol as a motivator, and both feature a dotty maid and an uninvited intruder. The similarities end there, as See How They Run takes a series of misunderstandings and amplifies them in waves of lunacy that somehow resolve themselves in the end.
All farces take some time to ramp up, as characters and their intertwining relationships are introduced. The story takes place in England during World War II in the home of Lionel Toop, an upstanding vicar (Paul Sulzman), and his wife Penelope, a former American actress (Danyel). While the vicar is out of the house, an old acting friend of Penelope’s, Clive Winton (played by Gardner) stops by while on furlough from the U.S. Army. The two attempt to re-enact a stage fight from Private Lives, which they had once performed together, but are seen by Miss Skillon, a nosy parishioner and gossip who has been suspicious of Penelope ever since she arrived in town. When Miss Skillon gets falling down drunk on a bottle of cooking sherry, the mayhem escalates into an orgy of slapstick that would win a gold medal if there were ever an Olympic event for pratfalls.
What’s fascinating about the play is that most of the introductory scenes use only two or three characters. When one leaves, another takes their place. It isn’t until well into the second act that all nine characters are on stage at the same time, but by that time, the story has become a dumpster fire of hide-and-go-wreak hilarity. Two characters go through staggeringly funny physical transformations: Sulzman as Toop and the amazing Lee Ann Ivy as Miss Skillon. Hanna Mitchell is fabulous as the Toops’ Cockney maid, Ida, both as a dialectician and physical comic. Eells plays Arthur Humphrey, who is filling in for the vicar at that evening’s service, but ends up getting knocked and flipped from pillar to post. (Eells’ acrobatic brilliance comes in especially handy for this role.) Rounding out the cast are Jake Mailey as Penelope’s uncle, the Bishop of Lax, and Adam Womack as Sergeant Towers, a policeman on the lookout for an escaped Russian convict, played with appropriate, if not confused menace by Alexander Schottky.
It wouldn’t do any good to try and explain how everything becomes such a mess by the end of the play; the fun is in getting there, and the cast manages to flawlessly execute the complex physical choreography (make no mistake, this IS like dancing) and verbal humor in this non-stop laugh fest without severely injuring themselves.
See How They Run is directed by Richard Camp, assisted by Sara Mitchell. The set design is by Steve Mitchell. It plays from August 18 to 28 at the Ojai Art Center. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.