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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
See How They Run

"Don't bicker Vicar."— Clive, who knows his Noel Coward having delivered Private Lives' main character's famous "Don't quibble Sybil" before becoming a World War II draftee .
Michele Tauber, Michael Brusasco and (on floor)Lisa McCormick. (Photo credit: Kevin Sprague)
Tough times have long made teater goers receptive to door slamming farces with lots of silly physical comedy. As if to make up for the absence of anything to laugh about in the daily headlines, Broadway producers last season dished up not one, but two. Richard Bean's hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors was hilarous and a big hit with critics and audiences alike. On the other hand , the Roundabout Company's less ideal choice of French sex farce, Don't Dress For Dinner, demonstrated how difficult it is to make this genre hit the bull's eye..

I'm happy to report that Barrington Stage's leave-them-laughing Main Stage finale for Summer 2012, is as sublimely silly, superbly timed and performed as One Man, Two Guvnors.. Each of its nine terrific farceurs is a standout, including Andy Nogasky the last to arrive in the cast (due to Don Lee Sparks' sudden illness) as well as the show show. And yes, by the time the last door has slammed Director Jeff Steitzer and his actors have indeed sent the audience into gales of laughter, even those (and yes, that includes tis writer) who aren't smitten with this brand of comedy.

Philip King's play is a classic madcap farce with a plot whose only purpose is to pile on the misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and pratfalls, and with it the laughs. It's set in the Vicarage of Meerton-cum-Middlewick, the sort of village that's a staple of British comedies and mysteries. Besides the resident Vicar, Lionel Toobin (Cary Donaldson). King has ratcheted up the potential for over-the-top insanity by populating his play with additional characters with turn-around collars (naturally, not all legitimate). There's also the Vicarage's cockney maid Ida (Dina Thomas) and Miss Skillon (Michele Tauber), self-righteous and horrendously unstylish village busybody to clash with Penelope Toop, the Vicar's free-spirited, and extremely stylish wife, a former actress.

The battle between the battleaxe matron and the beautiful Vicar's wife is merely the starter for the ludicrous misplaced blows that leave characters out cold, uncharacteristically sozzled, or running around the stage — in Vicar Toobin's case, stripped down to his underwear. Conveniently coincidental, Penelope's friend and colleague from her acting days, Clive Winton (Michael Brusasco) is in the army, stationed at a nearby camp for German prisoners of war. Penelope is delighted to see him and in another bit of convenient coincidence, there's a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives in which they co-starred nearby. Since Clive is on duty, Penelope lends him one of her hubby's suits and off they go.

Not to give too much away, besides Clive's costume change, a "Heil Hitler" happy, gun toting escapee (Jim Schubin) from the German internee camp also ends up in clerical costume, Penelope's uncle, the Bishop of Lax (Keith Jochim) arrives earlier than expected for an overnight visit, and is caught up in the mayhem at the Vicarage, as is guest Reverend Arthur Humphrey (Jeff Brooks).

The potent mix of characters adds up to increasingly hilarity. King's writing holds up remarkably well, especially since his punch lines and sight gags are delivered with deadon precision and agility whether by the major or minor players. If I had to single out the most memorable of the many funny scenes it would be a tossup between the four Vicars sitting side by side and Jeff Brooks's Reverend Humphrey politely accepting and pretend-drinking from an empty glass of brandy. As for my favorite line, it's a win-win-win for King's turning Coward's much quoted "Don't quibble Sybil" quip into "Don't bicker Vicar." However, Jochim's Bishop telling Sergeant Towers to "arrest most of these vicars" comes close.

Even when the Reverend Toop is back in his clerical garb, Clive is back in uniform, and the Nazi loses his grip on Penelope, King cleverly returns to Coward's Private Lives for a knockout finale. I would be remiss if I didn't add a big bravo to my praises for this energetic twist piled on twist production to the design team. Bill Clarke's very handsome set has the four doors that are de rigueur for a farce conveniently positioned. It's brightly lit by Philip S. Rosenberg. Sara Jean Tosetti's costumes are perfect suited for each character. The deliciously horrible outfit for Miss Skillion and more elegant costumes for Penelope are especially noteworthy. Sound designer Jessica Paz and Fight Choreographer Ryan Winkles round out the outstanding crafts team.

Don't expect any serious post show discussion about what all this running around means. Just go see this terrific ensemble run.

See How They Run by Philip King
Directed by Jeff Steitzer
Cast Lisa McCormick (Penelope Toop), Cary Donaldson (The Rev. Lionel Toop), Dina Thomas (Ida), Michele Tauber (Miss Skillon), Michael Brusasco (Corporal Clive Winton), Jim Schubin (The Intruder), Keith Jochim (The Bishop of Lax), Jeff Brooks (The Rev. Arthur Humphrey), Andy Nogasky( Sergeant Towers). Sets: Bill Clarke
Lights: Philip S. Rosenberg
Costumes: Sara Jean Tosetti
Sound: Jessica Paz Production stage manager: Renee Lutz
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, includes one intermission between the conflated Acts 1 &2.
Barrington Stage Company Boyd Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield
From August 9 to 26, 2012
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/ 12 press opening
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