Fine cast makes 'Run' rip-roaring fun


OLNEY -- Olney Theatre has opened its season with Philip King's "See How They Run," a British farce in which more than half the cast ends up dressed as clergymen. A visit to a vicarage has rarely been so rollicking.

The clergy count includes three characters who are supposed to be ministers as well as two turn-collar impostors -- an American serviceman and a Russian spy. Suffice it to say that before long, the spy and the serviceman are dressed as soberly as priests, while two of the three clergymen are running around in various states of undress. (This is a British farce, after all.)

Along the way, the play is filled with the requisite slamming doors, compromising positions and cases of mistaken identity; King wrote more than 25 farces, and he had the mechanics down pat.

But what makes the production fun instead of merely foolish -- a thin line where most farces are concerned -- is that director Bill Graham Jr. keeps it moving lickety-split, and the finely tuned actors run around as if they have guns to their heads, which they frequently do.

The story focuses on the quiet household of the Reverend Toop, a country vicar recently married to a former actress. Mrs. Toop is having trouble adjusting to life as a clergyman's wife, even though she is the niece of a bishop, who is due to visit the following day. Of course, he shows up ahead of schedule.

To complicate matters, a substitute clergyman, whom the Toops have never met, is coming to deliver the next day's service. Meanwhile, one of the wife's old acting chums drops by unexpectedly; the play takes place immediately after World War II, and he's an American soldier. And, oh yes, there's an escaped Russian spy roaming the area.

The cast attacks this silliness with admirable fervor, particularly Patrick Kerr, as the meek substitute clergyman, and Marguerite Kelly, as the impudent maid. Terrence Currier is a hoot as the scampering bishop. And Joan Rosenfels is properly priggish as a spinster infatuated with Mr. Toop.

Jonathan Bustle is supposed to be rather lackluster as Mr. Toop, and he conveys that quality well. But as his wife and her former acting buddy, Sherry Skinker and Eric Pierpoint could stand to be a bit zanier.

These are quibbles, however. "See How They Run" runs as smoothly as a clock -- albeit a cuckoo clock -- and it gets Olney's season off to a rip-roaring start.

"See How They Run" continues through May 26; call (301) 924-3400.

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