"Loot" -- Westport Country Playhouse

 

--Irene Backalenick

Joe Orton plays are an acquired taste. Not everyone is geared to the devastating black humor which marks his plays. And not everyone is tuned into Orton’s own life tragedy, a knowledge of which heightens appreciation of his work.

Despite the likely limits of appreciation, the playwright’s “Loot” is now at the Westport Country Playhouse, and director David Kennedy and cast give the black comedy a fairly good run for its money.

Orton, for starters, was a kid from humble beginnings taken up by the older Kenneth Halliwell, an educated, literate man. Serving as lover and teacher, Halliwell launched Orton into playwriting, a distinction to which he himself aspired. But unfortunately Orton was a genius who soon outstripped his teacher. His unique vision and voice brilliantly satirized the world around him, and brought him early recognition. This Halliwell could not abide and he was driven to kill both his young lover and himself. The loss, with Orton at his creative heights, was tragic. Who knows what Orton would have accomplished had he not died in his early 30’s!

While “Loot” is not Orton’s top work, tending to be repetitious, it is still a hilarious roller-coaster ride for Orton fans. In this play Orton savagely wrecks every accepted British value -- the church, medical world, police, family, marriage, true love, life, death, and anything else which crossed his path.

What, specifically, is the plot of “Loot”? The mother in the family has just died, and the family -- and nurse/caretaker -- gears up for her funeral. But every one is more concerned with his/her own greedy needs, as the corpse is bounced about, losing an eye along the way. Criminal plans and criminal investigation mix with funeral arrangements.

Kennedy stages the drama briskly, and for the most part, offers a first-class cast. David Manis, as the deplorable police detective Truscott, is the very heart of the play, giving a delicious performance. Also, Liz Rooth as the siren with the heart of a murderer and John Horton as the grieving, na├»ve widower are both right on target. But the two younger actors -- Devin Norik and Zach Wegner -- never capture the play’s style and mood. Whether the blame lies with director Kennedy or the lads themselves is hard to say.

In any event, not every theatergoer is keyed into modern British black humor, and “Loot” will have its limited appeal. But, for this reviewer, any chance to see Orton’s work on stage is a rare treat -- whatever its limitations.

Review also goes to nytheaterscene.com

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