As I left Lake City Playhouse on Friday night, after viewing its final production of the year, See How They Run, a British farce by Philip King, my friend who accompanied me said, "Well, they do great melodrama." To which I responded, "But this is a British farce!"
The Brits have cornered the market on farce for many years -- centuries, in fact. Looking back at British theater, you might even consider Merry Wives of Windsor (which Lake City tackled earlier this year) to have some elements of farce. Moving forward to Restoration Comedy, which dominated the stage after Elizabethan times, there were lots of hilarious moments verging on farce. Recent invasions include British playwright-novelist Michael Frayn (Noises Off, Copenhagen). Frayn has a new book, reviewed by Seattle Times book critic, Michael Upchurch. Upchurch calls it a "farce crackling with cerebral energy."
When I think of British farce, I think of Monty Python, with brilliant satirists Eric Idle and John Cleese; or Alan Ayckbourn with his 46 plays literally defining the genre. According to the dictionary, the definition of farce is: "a light, dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and an improbable plot."
So now back to the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene. I am always astounded by the Gookin dynasty and the fact that they have revitalized Lake City Playhouse. They appear to have a strong audience base; the many ads in their program attest to the fact that the community supports the Playhouse. And the full house on Friday night thoroughly enjoyed the production. I myself admit to laughing quite a bit and being engaged most of the evening; however, back to my original statement, the play was more melodrama than British farce.
If you are doing a British farce, you need a sprinkling of British accents. Now, I realize that if you have actors who don't do well with dialects, then just a flavor would work. This play was not set anywhere specifically, which bothers me immensely. Yet the blurb in the program says this is a wonderful farce, taking place in an English vicarage. Unfortunately, no one in the vicarage spoke the Queen's English, and even the cockney maid was straight from the Panhandle of Idaho. On top of that, the vicar's wife is supposed to be an American and an actress, but there is nothing to set her apart from anyone else in the house.
She runs into an old friend, an actor who is now a soldier (the play takes place during World War II). The humor comes from the fact that at one time, there are four men in black (not alien chasers), but people impersonating vicars (and some are real vicars) running around the stage.
The cast is very young (which makes you wonder if you are at a college rather than a community theater production). Actually, in order to keep up with the very fast-paced show, perhaps a younger audience is good, but one of the joys of working in community theater is that you get to use actors who are the right age for the characters. Not so here, with the exception of one cast member, Ramona Hickman playing Miss Skillon. This is her first time on the stage, and she did just fine. It's a very funny role, that of an English busybody and snoop who gets drunk and stuck in a closet.
Another character who did a decent job is Dan Gookin as the Bishop. One strange costume choice was his pajamas with the letters WWJD. As a radio person, I pondered why the Bishop had a radio station's call letters on his "jams." My friend helped me out at intermission when another Gookin, Jordan, announced the winning raffle ticket. "What does WWJD stand for?" I asked. "Is it a radio station here n town?" My friend said that WWJD stands for "What Would Jesus Do?" Okay, but I have to say, as a card-carrying Anglican, I don't know any Bishops who would wear pajamas with WWJD emblazoned on them, especially a very proper Anglican bishop in Merry Modern England! Well, of course this play DID NOT take place in England.
I did mention melodrama earlier, and the young and beautiful Shannon Cord -- who played Penelope Toop -- mugged her way through the night. Her sidekick, the soldier Clive Winton, played very effectively by Tyler Sherman, was very good. This young man has great presence on stage. By the end of the show, I wanted Penelope to run away with him rather than go back to the very stuffy Reverent Toop, played stiffly by the theater's technical director Charles Gift.
The intruder and the fellow playing the Rev. Humphrey were very young but competent in their tiny roles; Sara Messner as Sgt. Towers did a terrific job as a cop straight out of the Panhandle, far from the emerald green shores of England.
But I did laugh, and the young cast kept up the pace for a mostly fun evening. See How They Run is a very fun old play about an American actor and actress, a cockney maid (not), an old maid who imbibes alcohol for the first time, an escaped prisoner and a sedate bishop (WWJD). They do tromp in and out of the four doors of a vicarage somewhere east of Spokane.