Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'Loot:'' Joe Orton's Anarchic Comedy In Madcap Revival By Red Bull Theater

Inspector Truscott of Scotland Yard is keeper of the keys in the land of Topsy-Turvydom in Red Bull Theater’s madcap revival of Joe Orton’s Loot.

Loot was one of three full-length plays (the others were Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and What The Butler Saw) that Orton penned between 1964 and the time of his brutal death three years later at the hands of his long-time lover Kenneth Halliwell. 

With his death, Orton’s quick-fire output solidified his legacy and his reputation as an iconoclastic writer who used dark humor to skewer the Church and persons in positions of authority. 

Although Orton provided Loot with a wafer thin plot and occasional swerves in tone, the play is anarchically comical, like the best of the Marx Brothers movies (e.g. Duck Soup). 

The “Groucho” of the play is Inspector Truscott, performed here to the very edge of manic madness by Rocco Sisto. Truscott has invaded the home of the McLeavy family just as they are about to hold funeral services for the recently deceased Mrs. McLeavy. He is ostensibly investigating the theft of a large sum of money (of which the McLeavys’ son Hal and Hal’s undertaker buddy Dennis are, indeed, guilty).

In order to conceal their crime, the miscreants have pulled the corpse out of the coffin and replaced it with the “loot.” Thereon hangs the plot.  But all of this is merely an excuse for Orton’s quite funny dialog, in which it is possible to find echoes of Oscar Wilde, W. S. Gilbert, Lewis Carroll, and the aforementioned Marx Brothers. 

Truscott, who despite having the best lines, represents what Orton saw as the stupidity, the oafishness, and the corruption of the police. There is, for example, a scene in which he smacks around one of the suspects—a bit of realism that does shock us out of the comic absurdity of most of the rest of the proceedings (as does a reference to Pakastani child prostitutes). With Orton, what you see is what you get.

Truly, though, Truscott is an inspired invention. All through Act I, he justifies his takeover of the McLeavy household by insisting he is a representative of the “Water Board,” there to inspect the plumbing. (Although Orton clearly was not referring to “waterboarding,” that does add an appropriately contemporary image he would undoubtedly appreciate as another opportunity to wag a finger at authority figures).

When Truscott is finally forced to confess his subterfuge, he brushes it off this way:  “Any deception I practiced was never intended to deceive you,” a line that Oscar Wilde would have been delighted to lay claim to.  

Another gem is Truscott’s boastful story of how he broke the case of “the limbless girl killer.”

            “Who would kill a limbless girl?” he is asked, as
            a picture out of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus 
            pops into mind. 

            “She was the killer!” he explains, though he 
            refuses to elucidate lest it trigger a run of 
            copycat crimes.   

Try wrapping your head around that image. 

Loot is full of these fantasmagorical twists of language that are constantly flying around the set—along with Mrs. McLeavy’s mummified body (Another Truscott-ism: “The theft of a pharaoh is something which had not crossed my mind”). 

Even though Orton undoubtedly planned the set pieces carefully so as to allow for the word play, most of these bon mots feel anything but forced; rather they seem a logical reflection of the crazed minds of Inspector Truscott and the other characters. These include Hal (Nick Westrate); Dennis (Ryan Garbayo); another member of the police force, Meadows (Eric Martin Brown); Mr. McLeavy (who, as played by Jarlath Conroy, equals Mr. Sisto as master of the requisite tone and timing of Orton’s twisted variation on farce); and Fay (Rebecca Brooksher), the homicidal nurse and devout Catholic who—having worked her way through seven husbands, all deceased—is eyeing the others in search of Number Eight. 

Red Bull Theater, helmed by its founding artistic director Jesse Berger, built its reputation over the past decade by offering rarely produced Jacobean dramas and other plays of “heightened language,” along with a well-regarded program of readings. It is good to see the company expanding into producing contemporary works like Loot. 

Coming up in the spring will be a revival of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, another outlandish work that is right up Red Bull’s alley.  Should be fun!  Meanwhile, there’s Loot, which is set to run to February 9 at the Lucille Lortel Theater. 

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