The cast of the Port Tobacco Players’ presentation of “See How They Run.” From left to right: Neil Twohig as Rev. Arthur Humphrey, Tym LaBelle as Rev. Lionel Toop, Susan Claggett as Miss Skillon, Matt Usina as Corporal Clive Winton, Becki Turner as Penelope Toop, Greg Rumpf as the Bishop of Lax, Becky Norris Kuhn as Ida, Tyler Clark as the Russian spy, and Jeff Clark as the Police Sergeant. Photo by Ellynne Brice Davis.
La Plata, MD – The English farce, See How They Run, by Phillip King, opened at the Port Tobacco Playhouse Friday, Jan. 29. It runs through Sunday, Feb. 14, by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.
Port Tobacco Players (PTP) veteran director and actor Ben Simpson has assembled a talented cast to bring this crazily complex plot to life, perfectly matching each actor and actress to a specific role, showcasing the unique thespian contributions of each performer. Simpson has directed the myriad plot twists and turns of this three-act comedy-at-top-speed with expert synchronization.
The title is taken from the lyrics of the children’s nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” and the play abounds with comic situations, wit, mistaken identities, pratfalls, double-takes, double entendre, sexual innuendo and actors cavorting across the stage in various stages of undress—all hallmarks of traditional British humor.
Playwright King wrote the first act in 1942. A re-cast and restaged production opened in London in December of 1944 before transferring to the Comedy Theatre in January of 1945 where it ran for 18 months, eventually moving to the West End Theatre District. It has been revived several times.
The PTP version takes place in September of 1948 in the sitting room of the Vicarage of Merton-Cum-Middlewick, England. The single-set staging depicts a beautifully-lighted, comfortable parlor, suitable for the Rev. Lionel Toop (Tym LaBelle) and his American wife (and former actress and USO entertainer), Penelope (Becki Turner).
They are served by their clever cockney maid, Ida (Becky Norris Kuhn) and are frequently visited by a certain parishioner, Miss Skillon (Susan Claggett), who has the distinction of being the town gossip. Miss Kuhn is a Theatre teacher at St. Charles High School and turns in an ebullient performance through her vocal inflections and body language.
The basic plot seems quite tame: Penelope is visited by old friend and fellow acting partner Corporal Clive Winton (Matt Usina) while the household awaits the arrival of visiting Vicar Rev. Arthur Humphrey (Neil Twohig). Take note of Miss Turner’s amusing, off-key vocalizations as she “warms up” while awaiting tea to be served). Add to the mix Penelope’s uncle, the Bishop of Lax (Greg Rumpf), an escaped Russian spy (Tyler Clark), and a wise-cracking Police Sergeant (Jeff Clark) and situations begin to get complicated very early on during Act I.
On this particular day, the glamorous Penelope makes quite an entrance as she cascades down the staircase “straight from the bath” to join the Rev. Toop at tea, reinforcing her husband’s bewilderment over the flamboyant personality of the woman he’s married. Hats off to Costume Designer Quentin Nash Sagers for Miss Turner’s stunning negligee. As a matter of fact, Rev. Toop spends almost the entirety of the play in a constant state of bewilderment—an important component of the evening’s confusion—which Mr. LaBelle carries off confidently.
Just after Rev. Toop departs to play the piano for the Glee Club, Corporal Clive Winton drops in to see Penelope unexpectedly, to the delight of the flirtatious Ida. Matt Usina uses his resonant speaking voice effectively as he portrays the brash American soldier.
Busybody Skillon places herself inadvertently in the middle of Clive and Penelope’s reminiscing as they re-enact a scene they’d performed together in Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Miss Skillon is left cold—literally and figuratively—by their play-acting, and thus begins the non-stop chaos. It will take the police sergeant to unravel the tangled plot, to determine just who is the real vicar (out of four prospects), and to ferret out the escaped Russian spy amidst all the mayhem.
Clive had stashed his military uniform safely in an unused trunk in the parlor in favor of wearing Rev. Toop’s second-best suit so that he and Penelope might enjoy a night on the town but Miss Skillon’s “condition” becomes an issue. Mrs. Claggett gets a chance to show off her acting skills in her “tipsy scenes” which last for the entire remainder of the play. Rev. Toop returns from his evening of musical accompanying to find her “coming to” on the sofa, and valiantly tries to sober her up.
While Ida goes off to prepare a bed for Miss Skillon to “sleep it off,” the escaped spy sneaks into the parlor; he, too, claims the Rev.’s clothes.
As the evening progresses, the Bishop of Lax, Penelope’s uncle, arrives at the Vicarage a day early.
So, by the close of Act 1, Scene 2, Rev. Toop is reduced to appearing in his underwear, the town gossip is recuperating in the closet, a visiting Bishop is in the parlor and a spy is hiding off stage right, while Ida is running back and forth between the living room and the kitchen trying to keep everything – and everyone – straight (this was supposed to have been her night “off”).
Of course, this is the opportune time for Penelope to return home from her night out with Clive, and she makes small talk with the Bishop, while the spy, now dressed in Rev. Toop’s clothes, exits through the French doors towards the fabled “lily ponds” in the backyard. Act I ends with Clive—also in the Rev.’s borrowed clothes—on his knees, earnestly praying aloud along with the Bishop of Lax as Penelope collapses on the floor in a faint after having discovered her underwear-clad husband in the closet with the inebriated Miss Skillon.
Note the music pre-show and during Intermission, which includes “In the Mood”, among other well-loved standards of the era.
Act II, resumes just a few seconds after Act 1 ended and the audience is treated to another of Miss Skillon’s hilariously staged fainting spells. After ringing the bell at the front door for almost a quarter-of-an-hour, Rev. Humphrey is finally admitted to the Vicarage. Mr. Twohig adds his own special style of wit and sarcasm to the mayhem already in progress.
Now, more is learned of the somewhat inept escaped spy, as Tyler Clark creates a truly menacing characterization while accosting Penelope with his demands.
As the grand Finale approaches, there are plenty of parsons in the parlor with the police sergeant, plus Penelope and Ida (Miss Skillon is back in the closet). Just which man-of-the-cloth is really Penelope’s husband, Rev. Toop? The Russian spy is eventually tricked into revealing himself—although a far simpler way to ascertain his identity just might have been to eliminate anyone in the living room without a British or American accent.
The lights go down as Penelope and Clive gallantly attempt to explain the intricacies of the evening’s antics to the other characters; the cast exuberantly participates in the choreographed curtain call to the tune of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”.
Kudos to the production staff for their hard work at bringing this comedy to life: Kyle Bailey, assistant stage manager; Jenn Branham, hair and makeup design; Chris Cease, sound designer/sound operator; Rhonda Edwards, assistant producer; Wyatt Edwards, assistant stage manager; Joselle Gilpin, stage manager, light operator; Richard Gilpin, set designer and builder and master carpenter; Quentin Nash Sagers, costume design; Kyle Rappe, assistant director; Chris MaGee, Doug Graupman, Frank Cook, Hayden Edwards, Ryan Edwards and Kyle Bailey, set construction crew; Jill Hanger and Betsy Stevens, scenic painting; Terri Beinert, Quentin Nash Sagers and Ben Simpson, set decoration; Chris Cease, Jeff Clark, Brooke Howells, Patrick Pruitt, Janice Nash Sagers, Tessa Silvestro and Rachel Wallace, set decoration crew; Terri Beinert, properties; Angela Latson, light design; Miram Bowyes, sound operator; Carol Russell, Lisa Magee, Carol Charnock and Tina Monk, costume construction; Kaitlin Branham, makeup and hair crew; Vicki Norris and Brian Kuhn, house manager; Steve Claggett, armorer; Greg Rumpf, headshots; David Bayles, press photography; David Standish, program; Quality Printers, printer; Donald Ely, logo design.
See How They Run is produced in part by grants from the Charles County Arts Alliance and the Maryland State Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Show times are scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at $18 and $15. The Port Tobacco Players Theatre is located at 508 Charles Street in La Plata, MD, and for more information you may contact www.ptplayers.com or the Box Office at (301)932-6819.