CENTERVILLE — Centerpoint Theatre in picked an appropriate play for their Leishman Performance Hall this August. While the 2012 London Olympics are dazzling sports fanatics, See How They Run is a British import that translates the Olympic motto from “Faster, Higher, and Stronger” to “Faster, Funnier, Stranger” and creates a sort of comedy Olympics on the stage
See How They Run holds a special place in my heart as one of the first plays I saw in my early theater days in high school, as well as one of my first “straight plays” and definitely my introduction to wonderful genre of farce. Philip King’s script starts off with classic dry British humor as Reverend Lionel Toop assuages a meddlesome Miss Skillon’s general discontent with his wife, the American stage actress Penelope. When Penelope’s old theatre friend Clive shows up at the house, the interfering Miss Skillon ends up on the wrong end of a “stage punch.” Then the games begin including: Reverend Toop impersonations, team closet squeezing, and the ever-popular Miss Skillon hurdles.
The great orchestrator of these farcical games is director Michael Nielsen, who has very carefully trained his ensemble to perform in these events with excellent precision. The first act is full of the dry humor that Britain is famous for. Nielsen knowingly ensures the actors didn’t overplay these jokes and let the double entendres and sardonic comments attack with out overly pointing them up. Farce is all about the timing with gold medal performances provided by the entire cast. The entire second act moves at breakneck pace without one missed door slam, hurdle over a prostrate Miss Skillon (present or not), or sudden realization that someone’s plans are unraveling. I was laughing at all the amazing physical moments as well as the constant British quips. However, like some obscure sports in our modern Olympic games (handball, anyone?), I will point out that my wife did have some moments where she felt confused. Moments where lots of people were laughing (especially myself), but she wasn’t. She also had a couple of moments where she felt lost about the current motivation on each character in the rat race that ensued. Obviously this was one point of view, but is just to point out that there are some unique comedic moments, and future audience members really need to pay attention or you’ll miss something. Sort of like Usain Bolt’s 100m.
Each character serves up their own dedicated performance and the actors went all out to show all they had. My team of actors was the M/W/F cast and was led by the center of all the confusion, Missy Riffle in the role of Mrs. Penelope Toop. Mrs. Toop is natural and loveable to her husband and old friends, but also biting as she fends off the town gossip Miss Skillon. Missy Riffle exhibits appropriate righteous indignation over Penelope’s trouser wearing, soldier “yoo-hooing,” and generally American personality. Yet Riffle’s histrionics solidly entertain as the silly drunk through out the second and third acts. Her character is delightfully loopy, and she delivers great physicality as a passed out drunk or using her flaccid gestures to lead to her next ludicrous motivation and line. Mostly her sober and drunken moments are aimed at her lost love in Reverend Lionel Toop, portrayed by Darin Beardall. He played one of those unfortunate characters who has truly funny moments and is central to the plot, but half the time is defensive, yet never effectively sticks up for himself. Beardall’s character is the type I remember watching, but forget why they were funny after the show because the script didn’t make them as crazy as everyone else. Regardless, Beardall did well playing slightly oblivious to Miss Skillon’s constant nagging and horribly appalled at her drunken attraction. I also wished there was a little more connection between Beardall and Evans as spouses. I knew in the plot they were married, but I wanted a little more evidence of their loving affection that got them married, even if they are having numerous frustrated rows throughout the show.
My favorite performances came from “smaller” roles that really owned and delivered outstanding performances. From the very first lines, I loved Lynley Hogan’s portrayal of Ida. She really embodied that sultry and wisecracking Cockney maid. She delivered her lines to herself or to the unsuspecting people capering through the house with natural wit and candor. I loved the matter-of-fact and flirtatious manner she told the constantly hiding Corporal Clive (Brandon Garside) that he didn’t need to duck away every time she came in the room. Also, excellent was the timid and anxious Rev. Humphrey (Joe Nichols). He had such great display of emotional confusion, but also the excellent little moment joyously sitting on a hot water bottle on a couch. I really enjoyed this type of man who “never capers.” Todd Hogan’s bio says he’s a novice to play acting, but his Intruder was great, as he constantly had to hide his telling accent and his gun in Penelope’s side. I laughed every time he blandly said “I love her” to counter inquisitive minds.
The simple unit set provided all the necessary and effective technical aspects of the show providing a staircase to upstairs, French doors and windows that both provided access to the garden, a very well used closet. I appreciated the detail provided on the walls moldings and paint job that really let us be absorbed into this room for the special events over a couple of hours.
After the time was up and bells rang (literally), my abs had a nice work out from guffawing so much, plus I was a little tired from the adrenaline rush that passed from actors to audience. If you are loving the all things British coming from the Olympics, and want it last a little longer – ride a horse, ride a bike, take a run, or speed in a car to Centerville and enjoy this farce of Olympic proportions.