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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Lucille Lortel Theater


  Rocco Sisto and Nick Westrate/ Ph: Rahav Segev

The macabre farces of English playwright Joe Orton, who achieved fame in the 1960s before his tragic death at 34 years old, are rarely revived in New York. Although they still have cultural relevance and can pack a mighty theatrical punch, his idiosyncratic style, based on shock value and black comedy played at a feverish pitch, is extremely difficult for American actors and directors to master. Orton is also far less well known than other playwrights of his period such as John Osborne and Tom Stoppard.

The last major revival of one of his works in New York was Entertaining Mr. Sloane at Roundabout’s Off-Broadway space with Alec Baldwin and Jan Maxwell in 2006. Scott Ellis’ dull production is mostly remembered for the disconcerting rumors regarding Baldwin’s erratic backstage behavior, which apparently led to Maxwell quitting the show.

An oddball mix of sex farce, thriller, social satire and absurdist comedy, Loot has not been seen in New York since a 1986 Manhattan Theatre Club production with Kevin Bacon, Zeljko Ivanek and Zoe Wanamaker that transferred to Broadway for a short run. (On Broadway, Bacon was replaced by Alec Baldwin.)

In the play, friends Hal and Dennis have just returned from a bank robbery to Hal’s home, where Hal’s recently deceased mother is currently lying in a coffin. With the arrival of a mysterious inspector, they opt to hide the money in the coffin and desperately look for somewhere else to place the body, leading to all sorts of comic mishaps. The only sane person is Hal’s timid father, who is joined by a vixen, gold digger-like nurse. In the process, Orton manages to address numerous cultural issues such as the Catholic Church, middle-class morality and excessive police surveillance tactics. 

Red Bull Theater, which has brought a gutsy, no frills, indie spirit to rarely seen classical theater titles over the past decade, such as The Duchess of Malfi and Volpone, apparently opted to produce Loot in light of its stylized language. It is directed by Jesse Berger, who has helmed every Red Bull show to date, at the historic Lucille Lortel Theater.

Every now and then, Berger’s cast finds the distinct rhythm and flavor of Orton’s writing – what is often called “Ortonesque.” The constant mishandling of the corpse can’t help but deliver laughs. But for the most part, they flail around aimlessly and miss out on much of the humor behind the mayhem. As the determined yet idiotic Inspector Truscott, Rocco Sisto, who has appeared in many classical theater productions with Red Bull and the Public Theater, appears to have no grip on his character and indulges in broad mugging.


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