Saturday August 18, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In his staging of the British wartime farce "See How They Run" for Barrington Stage Com pany, director Jeff Steitzer saves his most inspired moments for post intermission.

It's not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with the first two-thirds of Philip King's 1943 farce about the chaos that ensues in the home of a country vicar when his freewheeling wife, a former actress, accidentally runs into an old friend and former colleague who now is stationed at a nearby detention camp for German prisoners of war and they decide to go off, innocently, to see a production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" in a neighboring community while her husband is away providing musical accompaniment for the local glee club. Indeed, Steitzer's production is fundamentally sound and moves with determined energy, efficiency and speed.

But with the late-in-the-play arrival of a certain Reverend Arthur Humphrey (a dead-on perfect Jeff Brooks), who has arrived at the home of Rever end Lionel Toop (Cary Donald son) and his wife, Penelope (Lisa McCormick), the tempo tones down a bit and the com edic re wards grow considerably higher.

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As played by Brooks, Hum phrey is a perfect farcical outsider -- deadpan, his face registering the barest acknowledgement of the insanity raging around him; a still point in a convusively whirling world. As he settles into the living room sofa, he plays gracious guest to Penelope's distracted hostess and thus begins a sublime series of exchanges of drinking glasses that are at once present and not present, building to a perfectly executed reaction by Brooks' Humphrey that is noticeable enough to draw a hearty re sponse from the audience while stopping well short of mugging. Jack Benny would be proud.

Steitzer also gets terrific comic mileage from a group of four men in clerical outfits being questioned by an Army sergeant while they are sitting on a couch, each with one leg draped over the other, who, in perfect sync, shift leg position, more than once, until the sergeant, after a perfectly timed beat caps the sequence with a visual punchline that shouldn't work but does -- splendidly, I might add.

Overall, there are no surprises in this farce (and King playfully lets us know there won't be any surprises).

The convoluted plot involves the aforementioned Rev. Toop, his free-spirited wife, and her former stage partner, Lance Corporal Clive Winton (Michael Brusasco); an imposing bishop (Keith Jochim); a maid (Dina Thomas); a pompous nosy neighbor and parishioner (Michele Tauber); an escaped German prisoner (Jim Schubin); and a variety of uniforms, chiefly clerical, that appear, disappear and then reapper on the wrong people.

King playfully lays out the blueprint early on and then follows it to the letter. So does this cast.