Sunday, July 28, 2013
By Ina B. Chadwick
‘Was it good for you?” is a double entendre I intended to ask audience members during intermission at opening night of Joe Orton’s 1965 British farce, “Loot,” directed by David Kennedy and now running until Aug. 3 at the “Westport Country Playhouse.”
I knew that the British playwright, a brilliant farceur who died violently and young, was not everyone’s cup of tea. His sensibilities were “outrageous, brilliant and subversive,” according to his biographers.
Maybe my husband would give me the “stink-eye” for embarrassing him with a winking quasi-sexual question to strangers. The Brits love that kind of ironic humor that has some naughtiness on the side. Orton has left his mark for me as one of the most scandalous, wittiest writers of a contemporary era.
I didn’t get ask to ask my naughty question, unfortunately.
In Act I: Scene l, the auditorium lights went flickering and a voice from the back of the theater asked the actors to “Stop!”
The stage went dark. Gracious management and production crew announced that we were all in the trenches of a tech problem together. Foiled by computers, we in the audience warmly bonded with our seatmates. But the opening lines had already started.
Would the living room in which the entire play takes place with a coffin dead center (pardon the pun) just be relit since the curtain had never come down, would they just pick up where they left off? Or would we rewind to the curtain call?
Farce is completely dependent on an outrageous situation being taken at face value, and on perfect comic timing. When social commentary is threaded throughout the slapstick’s absurd situations, as it is here, we need to linger for a second in this reality to understand the long and meaningful potshots at hypocrisy that Orton takes in “Loot” against the church, and his venom at the authorities who rule the working class with a badge and not much intelligence and certainly with no integrity.
However, catching the social significance was nearly impossible after the bumpy hiatus in the opening.
“Loot” revolves around the members of the McLeavy family and the events surrounding the death and subsequent burial of the family matriarch. As Mr. McLeavy grieves his wife’s passing, his son Hal schemes to hide the profits of a bank job he has just pulled off with his sometime boyfriend, Dennis.
The thieving boys have ingeniously figured out that Mrs. McLeavy’s coffin is the ideal place to stash their newly found fortune. But they have to get rid of the corpse. They attempt to hide it in a cupboard while Fay, Mrs. McLeavy’s lusty young nurse, proposes marriage to Mr. McLeavy, a man who is at least three times her age. “You’ve been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage yet.”
As we catch on to the others’ scheming, enter the corrupt authority, the suspicious and abusive Inspector Truscott. There is reality there, too. He has disguised his identity with the claim that he is from the City Water Board.
Was something wrong with being a formidable detective from the “Yard?” or was the bungling of a Water Board official preferable to blowing an official cover? These situations haven’t the time to settle in if we are laughing at the next lines, because the mechanics of comedy should be seamless and they are not so seamless in this production.
The British play up their losers very well. They like their working-class blokes. They have deep affection for the underdog and do not shy away from flamboyantly mocking bi-sexuality or even wildly promiscuous acts between unlikely people. All of that is here in the service of the farce.
Some of the sensibilities were lost in the fits and starts of laughter. I, for example, didn’t get who was gay and who wasn’t until after the play. It was only in a plot synopsis on a theater website that I read about the on-again, off-again Hal and Dennis, cozy lovers at times.
It was genuinely confusing to me since Dennis was professing his lust for Fay, and Hal was dreaming of owning a multicultural brothel with exotic women to service him. I had a moment where I wondered it the two boys were together or I had missed something? Yes, I missed the subtlety in the midst of the laughter.
“Loot” has to exist in its own world with its own rules. The characters arrive with no history, but they have their own logic. The situation has its own morals, or “immorals” as one of Orton’s directors, Daniel Fish, once said.
“The author’s will is so distinct that there is something about that voice that is peculiar, twisted, and utterly of this person. It infuses the whole play,” he continued.
So what am I to say when only the youth in the row across the aisle were guffawing noticeably with me at first? What am I to think when some of the audience left at intermission?
I wondered if I had been there on another night when the opening scene was spot on (literally, lit the way it was planned) whether I would’ve known why playing the scene for the laughs left some critics and certainly some audience members hungry. I laughed plenty and would recommend seeing this play on a summer night. It goes down smoothly and is delightful in its non-sequiturs.
It was good for me, ultimately. Maybe I’m a theater slut who is easily satisfied. But British comedy is always a risk with suburban audiences, especially to the longtime subscribers who would prefer Noel Coward’s genteel manners to Orton’s.
Go if you love wit. Go if you are up for the challenge of laughing and for “knowing” you won’t know every reference they’re making. Go if just to see good acting, excellent sets and the general experience of a good show of this season.
Ina Chadwick, who holds nine New England Press Association Awards from the prehistoric days of newspapers, has been producing, and performing, storytelling programs at The Fairfield Museum and History Center, The Bijou Theatre, Westport Arts Center and Two Boots, and now La Rue Elayne will present her new program,“Live Magazine at the Falls,” a variety show featuring storytellers and musicians in the Garrison Keillor tradition. Her radio hour, “Real People, Real Stories,” at www.mousemuse.com can be heard every fourth Saturday on WPKN 89.5 FM and www.wpkin.org streaming live.
Posted 07/28/13 at 01:02 PM
Truly “a farce to be reckoned with!!!!!”