See How They Run

“See How They Run,” the daft ’40s farce by Philip King, is well-directed and hilariously acted at the Springville Playhouse. Director James McGregor has the pacing just as it should be, and the cast has no weak links at all, with the leads showing particular skill.

Oh, and they’re all high school students.

It’s actually the Playhouse Youth Guild — a division of the Springville Playhouse — that has put this show together, but the participants’ talents outshine those of many of their adult counterparts.

It helps to have a good script, of course, and “See How They Run” has a great one. The dialogue is fast and clever, with characters snarking at each other constantly, and with a zillion comic possibilities. Everything takes place at a vicarage in England. The Rev. Lionel Toop (McGregor) has to put up with a nosy, prim-and-proper (yet inappropriately flirtatious, at least with him) parishioner, Miss Skillion (Natalie Llewellyn), as well as a wife, Penelope (Heidi Tippetts), who is a former actress and is anything but the demure and quiet preacher’s wife he’d like her to be.

Penelope, in fact, is the star of the show, and Tippetts plays her with fiery, gleeful abandon. Physically and vocally, Tippetts has energy, power and above all, comedic timing. She and Llewellyn — who is also talented far beyond her years — make a great duo, sparring over one another’s perceived inadequacies. (Llewellyn also plays a hilarious drunk later on in the play.)

While the Reverend is out for the evening, an old actor friend of Penelope’s stops by. It’s Clive (Jeff Croshaw), who is now in the army and has a one-night leave. They want to go see a production of the play they used to perform in, but it’s out of the city, and Clive can’t leave. The solution? Hide his military uniform in a trunk that “nobody ever looks in” (of course someone immediately does), and dress him up in one of the Reverend’s spare priest outfits.

When they return, all hell breaks loose as two — and eventually three, then four — men dressed as priests (some of them actually ARE priests) show up at the house, each being mistaken for someone else. Clive just wants to find his uniform — which the back-talking maid Ida (Eva Tippetts) has inadvertently misplaced — and get out, while Penelope is enraged at what looks to be an affair going on between the Reverend and Miss Skillion. Oh, and there’s an escaped Russian prisoner (Michael Johnson) involved as well (he’s also dressed like a priest, naturally).

Like any good farce, there’s plenty of physical comedy here, and it’s surprisingly fresh and non-sophomoric. People run in circles, jump over unconscious guests, punch each other in the face and do a lot of fainting — and they do it all like pros. (The punches in this show, of which there are several, are particularly good. They don’t look like fake “stage punches” — they look REAL. It may seem like a small thing, but working out the choreography of a good stage punch takes more than just a couple minutes of practice, and many shows just throw them in without paying attention to the details. This show goes above and beyond that.)

The play is hilarious from start to finish, with only a few lines delivered incorrectly, diminishing their humor. In the end, it doesn’t matter that Johnson doesn’t even ATTEMPT a Russian accent, or that there are two men each wearing clothes supposedly belonging to a man who is clearly not even close to the same size as they are. It doesn’t matter that Croshaw is often trying very hard not to laugh at himself. You forgive all this because 1) the show is so darn funny, and 2) the actors are clearly having the time of their lives. The enthusiasm and giddiness are contagious, and the show — entirely put together by high school students — is a rousing success.

I was wary about seeing this show. First of all, my last experience with the Springville Playhouse hadn't been all that great; second, my experience with '40s comedies is that they often aren't very funny (e.g., "Harvey"); and third, I found out the night before that it was being done by high school students.

Imagine my Christmas-morning-like surprise, then, when the show was absolutely delightful. It was better than a lot of shows I've seen that were entirely produced by adults. Kudos to the teens of Springville!