If you see Lamb's Players Theatre's current The Hit, you'll catch a scene in which a cute young assassin bashes her victim with an antique. From the second she blindsides her target, through the latter's unceremonious crumple to the floor, the actors betray not one hint of affectation; their poise makes the bit all the funnier, because the attack proves far from lethal. It's a brief but brilliant touch to this piece, which also happens to be the Players' 40th world premiere.
The cool thing about Lamb's is that most of its staff has been together since just after the Crusades, and those who've left enjoyed lengthy tenures at this Coronado institution. The casts are exhaustively familiar with each member's methods and goals—that intimacy allows them to play off each other on a dime and mount their performances with efficiency and precision. The company's script choices aren't always my cup of tea, but those choices are made with strong ensemble traditions in mind. Like the bashing scene, the rest of The Hit is an ideal show for a group steeped in such close-knittedness.
It's ideal because it's farce, which depends on nutty situations instead of characters for its stories. Amid all that familiarity, the cast is free to explore those situations in a climate of mutual support, even though Mike Buckley's script depends on adversarial content. For one thing, San Francisco antique shop owner Susan Timmerman (Cynthia Gerber) is told she has cancer and has hired neophyte killer Samm (Season Duffy) to put her out of her misery. Soon enough, a love-hate interest develops between Susan and widowed travel agent Sam (Buckley), while Samm and Susan's brother Steve (Chris Bresky) are a little less contentious amid their mutual attraction. This pales against the climax, when Susan almost buys the farm at the hands of Samm's ruthless Uncle Slavo (David Cochran Heath), who's as ugly as his gun.
Everybody lives happily ever after, which may be a problem for some. Farce does have its formulaic side, its nuances varying chiefly in superficial things like the characters' class distinctions and lines of work (with romance never far beneath) Accordingly, Buckley's script isn't terribly particular in its approach to the genre. He introduces the subplots right on time, and his dialogue gets the situations moving while keeping the characters interesting (Samm has a Big Gulp fetish, and Steve's about to blow off a full ride to Stanford)—but he leaves little to chance, and the result is a too-tidy, vaguely anal text in spots.
But farce is also fun to watch because it's so difficult to mount. Actors must constantly resist the urge to build on their roles lest they overwhelm the plot—and that's what makes watching Duffy and Gerber such a total joy. Susan and Samm establish an almost sisterly relationship from the get-go, and they let the tale take things from there.
Director Robert Smyth, a damn decent actor himself, nonetheless understands the vital importance of story in this genre—the bona fide character sketches come through in small multiple roles played by Paul Maley and Gail West, and Smyth takes care to relegate them to the background.
No sense mentioning Jeanne Reith's costumes, as Reith hits a home run every time out. And Buckley, who's chiefly known as a Players set designer, has cleverly configured the shop's façade. You'll see what I mean when you seat yourself for this very well-executed show. These folks practically sequester themselves for the sake of their craft, and that means everybody wins. This review is based on the matinée performance of June 8. The Hit runs through July 13 at the Paul and Ione Harter Stage, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. $20-$56. 619-437-0600 or www.lambsplayers.org.