Following a post-lockdown debut of Babette’s Feast, Taproot Theatre has hit the ground running in 2022 with an excellent rendition of the otherwise mediocre farce See How They Run. The show’s premise relies on the classic comedic trope of mistaken identities, and the resulting tomfoolery isn’t any more inventive. However, playwright Philip King’s intricate plotting and Taproot’s excellent cast make for a night of entertaining shenanigans, albeit nothing more.
The play follows Penelope, a vicar’s wife, as she attempts to have a night on the town with an old friend of hers, Corporal Clive Winton, while her husband is away. However, her foolproof plan is interrupted when a Russian spy is discovered to be on the loose.
You must walk before you can run, but the play spends far too much time doing so. It establishes subplots for the majority of act one, resultantly holding back on belly laughs. This makes the plot’s inherent triviality even more apparent, as in Frank Oz’s Death at a Funeral. However, as the plot threads intersect and go wrong—often simultaneously—the pacing picks up.
This is one of my major problems with most farces: there is either so much buildup that it is difficult to remain attentive, or so little that the punchlines don’t feel earned. The film There’s Something About Mary and sit-com Modern Family overcome this by switching between moments that are heartfelt and humorous, subverting viewers’ expectations upon each transition and consequently demanding engagement. While See How They Run fails in this regard, it still provides a strong enough foundation for Taproot’s cast and creative team to create an enjoyable production.
James Schilling’s Corporal Clive Winton injected energy into every scene he was in, but it almost seemed that Schilling was trying to get laughs rather than connect with the other members of the ensemble. Nonetheless, his performance was undeniably one of the highlights of the evening.
Although the entire play takes place in a single room in Penelope’s house, that didn’t feel like a constraint. Director Karen Lund and Fight Choreographer Ian Bond’s staging worked in tandem with Mark Lund’s set to effortlessly utilize the architecture of the space. For example, it is established early on that an aisle in the audience represents the back door, which returns in one of the chase scenes. This made the physical humor more dynamic, heightening the stakes and laughs.
In a time when many theaters are going out of their way to produce works with political or cultural significance, See How They Run is a somewhat refreshing choice amongst more provocative productions that are currently in Seattle, such as the Seattle Rep’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer and Village Theatre’s Songs for a New World. While I believe the best art incites critical discussions about our society, art that tries to be important does not always succeed, especially without sacrificing entertainment value.
Although I tend to prefer work with more depth, Taproot’s See How They Run is a scrumptiously silly delight. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, but if you desire a well-executed old-fashioned farce, it delivers.