If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Loot” by Orton at Westport Playhouse

Bad boy British playwright Joe Orton can still provoke after all these years and the Westport Country Playhouse’s current revival of Orton’s best play, “Loot”, does nothing to change one’s opinion about the divisive playwright. If you are a fan, this “Loot” will definitely please. If not, nothing is going to make you stay seated come intermission. Count me in the former camp.

“Loot” chronicles proper English funeral plans gone very wrong. Much married Nurse Fay (a wickedly funny Liv Rooth) is a comfort to old McLeavy (John Horton, priceless) currently mourning the death of his wife. The woman lies in state in the front parlor of his home when ne'er-do-well son Hal (Devin Norik) and his funeral director pal Dennis (Zach Wegner) decide to hide the bank loot they’ve just stolen in mom’s casket. Onto the scene arrives Truscott (the uproarious David Manis) who claims to be from the Water Board but acts suspiciously like a police detective. Merry madness from the poison pen of Joe Orton happily ensues.

Written in 1965, Orton’s outrageous comedy of bad manners hasn’t aged a day. A pitch-black farce that takes pot shots at the police, religion, death and other sacred cows, “Loot” has the kind of delicious dialogue that could be squandered by a less talented company of actors. Luckily director David Kennedy sets the perfect tone here by having his gifted troupe play the comedy with the utmost seriousness and, as a result, it could not be funnier. Granted, with exploded body parts, a mishandled corpse and flying teeth and eyes in the mix, “Loot” won’t be embraced by the more delicate theatergoer. For the rest of us, however, it’s a revival that is welcome, nasty fun.

As the sole female member of the cast (not counting the corpse!), Liv Rooth exudes smarts and sexuality in equal measure. Her timing with a line can’t be faulted as when she purrs to McLeavy early on in the play, “You’ve been a widower for two days, have you considered a second marriage?”. Norik and Wegner understand the bisexual spin Orton has given Hal and Dennis and gleefully embrace all their contradictions while Mr. Horton’s sad-sack McLeavy proves the perfect patsy as the only truly moral character in the comedy. In the play’s best-written role, Mr. Manis is absolutely hilarious as Truscott effortlessly handling Orton’s contrary wordplay whether roughing up suspects with no regard to their constitutional rights or flirting with Nurse Fay for a murder confession.

The wallpaper and chintz scenic design by Andrew Boyce is set at an angle which deftly demonstrates the play’s off-kilter humor and it is all very nicely lit by lighting designer Matthew Richards. Best of all “Loot” is a reminder of the genius of Joe Orton, a playwright who became the Oscar Wilde of his generation after relatively few plays. Sadly, “Loot” was only the beginning of what could have come from this writer who was tragically murdered by his lover at the age of 34. We are lucky to have this blistering satire which, in a splendidly cast, directed and designed production in Westport, still resonates.

“Loot” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through August 3.  For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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