If you’ve been contemplating a summer visit to lower New England for some swell weather, beautiful rain nourished greenery and even good theatre, you might consider an afternoon or evening at the fabled Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut. This completely refurbished old barn has been offering new plays and splendid revivals, often with the likes of Paul Newman starring, or in old timey days, those of the stature of Laurette Taylor and Tallulah Bankhead. Shirley Booth became an over the title star at this stock theatre by trying out Come Back, Little Sheba before its producers brought it to Broadway as her first starring vehicle.
Currently, I was intrigued to join a group from the Drama League on an outing that included a luscious buffet lunch at the Red Barn Inn a mile or two away.
The attraction at the Playhouse was Loot, one of the three wildly comic plays Joe Orton left us before his horrific murder at the age of 34. Orton’s dismal family background proved fodder for him, as he attacked just about every institution he ran across in his young life. With Loot he was after formal religion (particularly the one called Catholic), politics, lust, avarice, police methods, big business and the role of women in the social structure of the 1960s.
A controversial start in London in 1964, it was too odd to attract Broadway interest until 1968 and then its very oddness kept it from a successful run. It closed after 22 performances with a cast that included the brilliant George Rose and a very young Carole Shelley. American audiences were just not ready to accept Orton’s savagely cynical viewpoint, even though his venom was laced with a wildly comic overlay. It took until 1986 for Broadway to beckon again, and this time, with Joseph Maher in the Rose role, and such stalwarts as Alec Baldwin (making his Broadway debut) Zoe Wanamaker and Jelko Ivanek in support, it managed a more successful stay of some 100 performances. Not a commercial triumph, but those who saw it, (I was one of them) relished it and more and more, it was acknowledged that Orton had become a writer for the ages.
Westport, under the inspired directorial guidance of David Kennedy, has put together a perfect cast of local actors who are to the lower London accent born. Orton’s plays, like those of his contemporary Alan Ayckbourn who outlived him by 50 years, require actors who either respond to coaching and direction, or who have the experience and ability to project the very particular body language as well as dialect of the average Joe and Judy who populate the back streets of the East End of London.
The central character is “Truscott”, who presents himself as an inspector from the Water Board, ostensibly called to locate the source of a leak. Of course, early on his disguise is discovered and he admits to being an Inspector from Scotland Yard, sent to probe the death of Mrs. McLeavy, which is highly suspicious.
Money, lots of it (“loot”) is involved and where and how that money is hidden feeds the comic mill that keeps the play jumping about all evening long. The idiocy of Truscott, the duplicity that characterizes Fay, the nurse implicated in McLeavy’s death, the larceny in the hearts of the two men who are her partners in crime, the innocence that is tested again and again in Mr. McLeavy, the widower, fills the living room (in which a coffin is prominently displayed, the one containing what’s left of the deceased) with curve after curve in the story line.
David Manis’ “Truscott” is a tall, moustached police officer who tells us that “the process by which the police arrive at the solution to a mystery is, in itself, a mystery.” That about sums up Officer Truscott. Liv Rooth’s “Nurse Fay” is a combination of a British “Miss Adelaide” from Guys and Dolls and Lizzie Borden. She’s pert, pinchable and totally lethal. So it goes with the rest of this beautiful ensemble, rounded out by John Horton, Devin Norik, William Peden as the sweet and appealing copper who may or may not end up with the tons of money that’s been bandied about since the curtain rose.
Not a recognizable box office name among them, yet proof positive that there are tons of excellent working actors who fashion careers as supporting players who are perfectly capable of playing star roles when offered the opportunity.
I’m certain Joe Orton would have relished this production of one of his trio of riotous satires. I know I found it, as did a capacity audience, great fun causing me to want to see, or at least read, What the Butler Saw and Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and the rest of the Orton oeuvre.
Loot is onstage thru August 3, 2013 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, CT 06880.
Details and tickets