The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, March 29, 2018, Page 11, Image 11

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    MARCH 29, 2018 // 11
“This is the most sure-fire show I
could think of,” James said, adding it
was at one time considered the funniest
play in English. “It has no message. It’s
pure frivolity.”
The show — originally written
in 1941 by an English corporal and
revised a couple of years later — fea-
tures a diverse cast of characters led
by American former actress Penelope
Toop. She is married to Rev. Lionel
Toop, the vicar of a local parish in the
fictitious village of Merton-cum-Mid-
dlewick. A Russian spy, gossiping
churchgoer, cockney maid, incom-
petent police sergeant and shocked
bishop join in the mix, and chaos and
confusion ensue.
At one point, according to James,
“there are four people onstage dressed
as clergyman, and one of them is the
Russian spy, and they have to figure out
which one he is” — though it’s glaring-
ly obvious to the audience, as the spy
doesn’t try to conceal his accent.
A true British comedy
True to British tastes of the 1940s,
James said, the play is “really a ticklish
little comedy” full of muted innuendo
rather than blunt sensual references or
“It’s not sexy, it’s titillating,” he
explained. “Anytime something is about
to get out of bounds, someone stops
it.” With two American characters, it
also utilizes the “yanks in Britain” gag,
which contrasted loud wise-cracking
Americans with the subdued citizens
and settings of mid-century England.
“It was its own genre after the war,”
James said. “The yanks were so dif-
ferent than the repressed British. They
were brash and had a different sense of
For instance, the nosy parishioner,
and show’s antagonist, is shocked and
appalled by the supposed scandal of
Penelope wearing trousers in public.
However, Penelope is not portrayed in a
negative or demeaning light, but rather
as misunderstood.
“She’s an actress who married a vic-
ar,” James said. “The vicar is mild-man-
nered and proprietous; that’s the conflict
in the household. That conflict is
inflamed by a spinster parishioner who
thought she should have married the
Justin Germond, of Hammond, who
plays Sgt. Towers — the law-enforcing
character who enters the plot near the
ABOVE: From left: Bob Goldberg, Patricia VonVintage and Barry Sears run through a
scene from ‘See How They Run.’ BELOW: From left: Patricia VonVintage, Barry Sears and
Justin Germond work on the play ‘See How They Run’ at the Astor Street Opry Company.
that may not resonate broadly with peo-
ple today. The cast had to become well-
versed in how to deliver the lines to
make the humor easily understood and
enjoyed by contemporary audiences.
“I think of comedy as music,”
James said. “You sell a joke with tem-
po and tone. Inflection is what makes
us understand things. It’s not a concept
everyone grasps immediately, deci-
phering what word is important.”
Patricia VonVintage, who recently
assumed the role of executive director
at the opry company, plays the role of
Penelope, and she described the show
as “very different than any play I’ve
ever done.”
Because of James’ educational ap-
proach to directing, she feels she is be-
ing taught the reasoning behind various
theater techniques for the first time.
Additionally, she said, “doing
a British comedy as opposed to an
American comedy is the most drastic
difference to me, because in the past
I’ve been a primarily physical actress.
Now I’m learning an entirely different
A roller coaster
end and resolves the situation — said
the play has a “healthy mix of it all” in
terms of comedy.
“The movement is heavy, but that
is not the sole comedy,” he said. “A lot
of the physical comedy is more of an
embellishment. The dialogue alone is
already funny by itself. And the move-
ments and the actions taken enhance it.”
Barry Sears, an Astoria-based
chiropractor who plays the Russian
spy, added, “You want to act like this
is all normal. You want to try to sell it
like this is real, but what the hell, the
world’s gone mad.”
Comedy as music
Because of the outlandish humor
woven into the show, part of James’
directing process was educating the cast
on the right tone, tempo and inflection
to deliver a joke in the appropriate style.
“You have to teach people how to be
funny,” he said. “Not everyone knows
how to be funny. Not everyone has good
timing. During the course of doing a
play, everyone has to come around to it.”
“See How They Run” comes from a
difficult genre, one that is unfamiliar to
modern casts. The show also contains
numerous period-specific references
She is not the only cast member
whose understanding of the play,
and theater in general, has developed
through James’ educator-approach to
the rehearsal process.
“He walks us through it a lot of the
time, so we make sure we all sound
like we’re from the same play,” said
Jaysea Williams, who is playing the
bold, brassy cockney maid, Ida. “It
would be easy for us to all sound like
we’re from different plays, but it’s part
of making it cohesive.”
Germond, who has worked with
James twice before, said he enjoys the
process since the director has “a mind
and ear and eye for the script and how
he deciphers it.”
While audiences may be in for a
bit of a history lesson when attend-
ing “See How They Run,” the show
is brimming with enough slapstick
and hilarious characters to keep them
“It starts out a nice pace and then,
you kind of go on a ride,” VonVintage
said. “You are definitely on the roller
coaster, and the roller coaster gets
faster and faster. By the end of it, I
feel like I’d be sitting on the edge of
my seat, wondering what is going to
happen next.” CW