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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 12, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Loot’


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

Loot, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $38. Performances continue through

April 23.

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