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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 19, 2006
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Entertaining Mr. Sloane’
New York audiences got their first opportunity to relish British
bad-boy playwright Joe Orton’s devilishly cynical 1964 play in 1965.
They didn’t relish it for long as it only lasted 13 performances plus
four previews. The play’s uneasy mixture of mirth and menace, its
uniquely British view of the middle class, its caustic dialogue, and
its willfully amoral perspective are tough assignments for any
American theater company. The Roundabout Theater Company, under Scott
Ellis’s direction, has got it just about perfect. It is always
comforting to hear an audience laugh at the right moments and
demonstrate their pleasure and approval for all the perverse and
peculiar doings that propel this play. It is even more comforting when
a critic feels compelled to join in that response.
As one of the more notorious politically incorrect playwrights of the
mid 20th century, Orton has earned our cautious appreciation with such
subsequent and even more outrageously nutty comedies as "What the
Butler Saw" and "Loot." But "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" stands apart for
its rather shameless scorning of women. It is to Orton’s credit that
he is a master at framing his rage and frustrations in farce. The
players prove to be not only in tune with the outre nature of Orton’s
four main characters, but also appear as sublimely effective farceurs.
The play is propelled by a tug of war between a middle-aged brother
and sister, as they both compete for the sexual favors of an
opportunistic 24-year-old male lodger. But it is primarily buoyed by
its delectable dialogue and extravagantly loony characters, including
that of their aging, disagreeable father, who lives with the sister.
Jan Maxwell, who last season sparked the sputtering musical "Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang," is wonderful as Kath, a brazenly self-indulgent
woman, who has no qualms about pursuing and fulfilling her sexual
fantasies in earnest. Maxwell proves to be an unlimited source of
comedic ingenuity, as she flip-flops hilariously from motherly doting
to seducing predator. Pushing her character’s idiosyncratic behavior
to its most farcical limits, she delivers every line with a
deliberately twisted sensibility and uses her body with almost
cartoon-like abandon. One can deduce that no lodger had ever been safe
in her home.
Alec Baldwin plays the brother, Ed, as a pretentious poseur, whose
closeted sexuality is slyly yet definitively observed as gentile tics,
quirks, and squirms. Ed’s foxy agenda in wooing the easily corruptible
Mr. Sloane is veiled not only in Baldwin’s uptight, tight-lipped
British-ized performance but in the way he is able to deploy Orton’s
most flippant bon mots with a casual elan. He defines Ed, a slick and
successful entrepreneur, as a man of finely-honed affectations and as
a subtle manipulator who knows how to get the upper hand. Baldwin may
have seen days when he could have played a hunky Mr. Sloane.
Notwithstanding his misstep a few seasons back in the revival of
"Twentieth Century," Baldwin is grandly earning his stripes as a
commendable, and still good-looking, character actor.
There is no denying either Mr. Sloane’s attractive presence or the
sense of danger that he brings with him into the home. Chris Carmack
resides believably in the role of the duplicitous drifter. The most
intriguing part of the play is to watch Mr. Sloane unwittingly become
the pawn of the two people he has unwisely presumed to be easy marks.
However insinuatingly clever are Carmack’s scenes with Baldwin and
Maxwell, Carmack shows his true colors and his most dangerous side to
Richard Easton, who plays Kemp, the siblings’ grumpy but not
altogether dopey "Dadda." Kemp’s discovery that Sloane is the murderer
of his former boss leads to violence that Ed willfully condones. It
seems that Kemp has not spoken to Ed since his 17th birthday, when he
caught him "committing some kind of felony in the bedroom."
Notwithstanding the play’s full frontal attack on sexual politics and
social mores, it is the sublime balance of naughtiness and nastiness
that makes this play so entertaining. Director Ellis seems to have had
little difficulty keeping faith with a playwright who daringly derived
as much inspiration from Harold Pinter as he did from Oscar Wilde. The
interior of the little home in the vicinity of junkyard outside of
London is credibly evoked by designer Allen Moyer. But rightfully,
it’s the incredibly dark and entertaining satire that fills this
space. A ripping good show. ***
– Simon Saltzman
"Entertaining Mr. Sloane," through May 21, Roundabout Theater Company
at the Laura Pels Theater, at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center
for Theater, 111 West 46th Street. $61.25 to $71.25. 212-719-1300.
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