SANDY — In the estimation of this reviewer Hale Centre Theatre is one of the premier theaters in the state of Utah. Based on the end of year highlights from UTBA, I’m not alone in that view. Their technical mastery is often unparalleled in all phases. Actors and directors across the state thrill at the chance to work with HCT and perform on their exquisite stages. The tickets are costly to the average theatre goer, and yet houses are full because the bar has been set incredibly high. All of this is to say that as much as it pains me to write, when I walked away from this production of HCT’s See How They Run by Philip King, feeling decidedly lukewarm, I was as surprised as anyone. Perhaps this was due to the contrast with the absolute gem I had previously seen there which was in its closing run the same weekend.
As I’ve mentioned in several reviews, comedies need to be quickly paced rather than plodding. See How They Run was indeed a sprint. Right from the gate, dialogue was fired off so fast that it was hard to keep up with, and I was delighted to not see a comedy bogged down in its own self-awareness and indicating to the audience. This production, however, seemed to tip too far in the other direction. In maintaining a blistering speed, characters often didn’t have a chance to establish their intentions, and jokes were overrun or missed. This began with the scene between Vicar Lionel Toop played by Brett Myers and Ms. Skillon played by Sara McDonald. The dialog is rich with insinuation and Toop is oblivious to the barely suppressed infatuation that Skillon has for him. Also, her all consuming jealousy of his wife that has devolved into pettiness about who decorates a church pulpit. Individually, I loved McDonald’s portrayal of Skillon. She devolved into a delirious wreck that was simultaneously pitiable and one of the comedic highlights of the show. However, the sexual tension between Toop and Skillon was underplayed and overrun with line pickups. I can appreciate that overt sexual tension between the two may not have great audience appeal at HCT, but it was beyond tame and bordered on awkwardness.
By contrast, Toop’s wife Penelope, played by Corrine Adair) flirted shamelessly with Lionel and still received little chemistry back as these moments rarely had time to catch their breath. Each of these actors was technically strong. Adair was an energetic playmate alongside each of her counterparts. Penelope relishing each moment to dig at Ms. Skillon was on point, but rarely lasted long enough to be savored before a new conflict would arise. She had strong chemistry with Adam Packard as Lance Corporal Clive Winton and the two reminisced as if they’d been friends for ages. Their exasperation about losing Winton’s suit was passionate and earnest, but somehow just didn’t make me laugh.
I wondered as I watched the play how much of it had to do with performing a script that simply doesn’t resonate with contemporary audiences. The context of discussing Noel Coward’s Private Lives doesn’t land with the Netflix Generation as it might have when the play premiered in 1944. Further, while saying “Heil Hitler” to lampoon a petty criminal is an essential plot element to the story and included amusing correlated sight-gags, it didn’t read to me as funny as it clearly would have to a country still in the thick of war with Nazi Germany. It ultimately led to a show that had strong technique, but left me emotionally disconnected.
I loved the scenic design by Jenn Taylor. Doing a farce like this requires a degree of cleverness with spacing, doors, and leaving way for sight gags. The set was not only practical and efficient, but stunningly put together and demonstrated craft and artistry. I have the same praise for the costume design by Candice Nielsen. I loved the several dresses of Mrs. Toop. Each had their own flair but simultaneously accented how very unlike a vicar’s wife she was.
I wish I could point to one moment, actor, or element that was disappointing, but I can’t. Each actor played their part well and was invested in committing fully on stage. I also tip my hat to director Jim Christian. He kept the dialogue moving, led a cohesive and neat technical design, and cast actors who individually were strong and played well. I would love to see these same actors in another show or to see if there is stronger chemistry between the other cast in of this production.
In the Pixar film Monster’s University, there’s a farcical scene between Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan where they are trying to scare one another during an exam. The scene goes badly and ends with the destruction of the dean’s priceless artifact. She puts them on the spot to determine their place in the program, but seemingly has a decision in mind from the start. She looks at Mike who has the book definitions down, but when he begins to demonstrate his knowledge she stops him by saying, “scariness is the measure of a monster. If you’re not scary, what kind of a monster are you?” This interaction bubbled to the surface as I tried to put my finger on just why I walked away unimpressed by the production that hit so many of the right notes. Ultimately, Hale Centre Theatre’s See How They Run was technically sound, well directed, and well acted. It just amounted to much less than the sum of its parts. It was a farce that wasn’t funny. If a farce isn’t funny, what kind of a play is it?