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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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