Stop—and Look Around

“People are profoundly bad, but irresistibly funny.”  This quotation, from playwright Joe Orton, serves as the epigraph to a revival of his Loot, currently running at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  It is staggeringly misleading.  Applied to a work by, say, Edward Bond, or Tom Stoppard, or Sarah Kane, it would be appropriate.  But Loot is no cynical investigation of human folly, but a broad and rather lame farce that might have been commissioned, and then forgotten, by the BBC in the early ‘sixties.  It’s disposable 3am television, not the pure and rare satire John Lahr gushes over in his introduction to Orton’s work and certainly not the “bloody marvelous” writing about which Harold Pinter eulogized.

Mrs. McLeavy is dead, leaving her husband (Jarlath Conroy) and her inheritance in the hands of a conniving, Catholic nurse, Fay (Rebecca Brooksher)—a woman who has averaged a husband a year since she was sixteen.  The McLeavy’s son, Hal (Nick Westrate), has problems of his own, as he has recently participated in a bank heist with his childhood chum Dennis (Ryan Garbayo); all fall under the suspicion of Truscott (Rocco Sisto), a detective from Scotland Yard who rather ineptly disguises himself as a member of the metropolitan water board.  With a thick moustache and eyes that rocket around the room like Cheshire Cat pinballs, Truscott slowly (and miraculously) unravels this gang of incompetent rogues.  Orton seems to have had the intention of exposing the hypocrisies of religion, the government, and blind adherence to authority, but this slog is little more than a series of overlong scenes punctuated by far-too-often-repeated jokes.

Mr. Sisto, in the play’s loudest role, brings more energy than memorization to Truscott, and at the performance I attended he stumbled through almost as many lines as those he successfully delivered.  Still, he has a nice voice, one that vaguely resembles the cartoon dog Droopy’s, and it suits this bumbling investigator well.  The remainder of the cast is unmemorably adequate, which is clearly the fault of the script and not of any of the actors.  Collectively, they navigate an awkwardly blocked stage, the kiss of death to any farce—in particular, a gag involving the stuffing of Mrs. McLeavy into a cupboard takes far too long to earn any laughs.

The Red Bull Theater has been a great source of classic revivals in New York: their Volpone, for instance, was a highlight of 2012.  And since there are already enough companies ready to tackle non-canonical twentieth century plays—companies without the resources to successfully launch, for example, a Jacobean revenge drama—it would be a shame to lose them to this kind of mediocrity.

Loot runs through February 9th at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  121 Christopher Street  New York, NY.  2 hours.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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