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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
There is this tantalizing nurse who, though she may
not believe in euthanasia, does believe in murder. Her ninth victim,
a Mrs. McLeary, has recently succumbed. The burial of the recently
deceased is, however, hampered by the fact that Mrs. McLeary’s wayward
son and his pal, an undertaker with a flair for the macabre, have
temporarily taken possession of the coffin. Where else could they
stash the "loot" from their recent robbery? A bereaved, unsuspecting
husband stands by as a police inspector pretending to be a fact finder
from the Metropolitan water board bursts onto the scene to rearrange
the facts in a manner only the late Peter Seller’s Inspector Clousot
could compete with.
Joe Orton’s "Loot," now at the George Street Playhouse, through
April 23, may appear a farce, but it is in dead earnest about uncovering
the corruptness, the callousness, and the capriciousness of people
who often claim to be in the good graces of society. It is a shame
that director Wendy Liscow has not approached the play with the dead
earnestness it requires, but has chosen to treat it as lightly as
she would a naughty burlesque sketch.
While "Loot," may be one of the funniest — if not one
of the most sardonic — satires in 20th-century play literature,
Liscow’s half-realized staging loses too much of its potential to
shock and surprise. Slow pacing allows too much time for an audience
to see the holes in the plot. And with the actors pressed into almost
full-time audience pandering, "Loot" appears to wander about
in its own brilliantly skewed maze. Yet there is enough of what remains
innately and hilariously sinister in the play to make you laugh even
when you realize what could have been.
The author, himself murdered at the age of 34 in 1967, had only moderate
success with his plays. Although his first play "Entertaining
Mr. Sloan," was a commercial failure originally on Broadway, it
was revived successfully Off-Broadway in 1981. Orton’s last play "What
The Butler Saw," was posthumously produced Off-Broadway and won
the Obie Award for Best Off-Broadway Foreign Play of the year.
Formidably wallowing in enough diabolical thoughts and deeds to make
your nerves tingle, Orton’s matter-of-factly perverse characters are
also lamentably persuasive. The cast is well chosen, but just barely
in getting in tune with the perversity of their characters’ personalities.
When she isn’t blatantly telegraphing the jokes behind her lines,
Nancy Opel is otherwise amusing as Fay, the mercenary serial murderess
nurse. As Truscott the inept masquerader, Richmond Hoxie insufficiently
toys with comical ingenuity, as he twists every one of his inquiries
into a circle of incomprehensibly clear-headed deductions. As the
widower who becomes increasingly submerged in a convoluted predicament,
Merwin Goldsmith has a respectable go at his task of turning from
forlorn dumbfoundedness into a state of monstrous stupefaction. I
rather liked the spirited bi-sexual perversity that propels the action
of the black homburg-wearing undertaker Dennis (Liam Christopher O’Brien)
and the amoral loose-tongued son Hal (Greg McFadden).
Despite this production’s lack of hyper-real rooted lunacy, "Loot"
is a fantastically deranged and topsy-turvy marauding of our senses.
It is also a dazzlingly written black comedy that illuminates much
more than it buries. Would that it had been properly illuminated.
I like the work of designer R. Michael Miller, who creates a proper
interior of a British middle-class home, its hideous flowered wallpaper
making a notable nod to British taste in interior design.
— Simon Saltzman
New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $38. Performances continue through
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