Sometimes, when you don’t have enough, you do too much. Thus low-budget productions can feel overstuffed and higher-budgeted ones streamlined. This is unfortunately the case with Entertaining Mr. Sloane, a wonderful play by Joe Orton that is currently being revived by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. The stage is flanked by trash bags piled up to the ceiling and littered with books and other knickknacks that serve neither a dramatic nor thematic purpose. As the first act unrolls, we are introduced to an inexplicable and intrusive sound design, the action scored by a plunking keyboard that sounds like the soundtrack to a ‘seventies porno or perhaps a Casio keyboard preset. Nothing would have been better.
The play itself concerns the eponymous Mr. Sloane (Matt Baguth), who takes up as a lodger in the home of Kath (Elise Stone), a needy, middle-aged woman who quickly casts Sloane as ersatz child and lover: “Such a big heavy baby,” she coos as he mounts her on her settee at the end of act one. But whatever functionality they might find in their quid pro quo is interrupted by Kath’s brother, Ed (Antonio Edwards Suarez), who wants Sloane for himself, and her father, Kemp (John Lenartz), who recognizes him from a murder he witnessed years ago.
Orton, who was himself murdered in his mid-thirties, deserves a larger American audience—but this is certainly not the production to achieve that. Though Mr. Lenartz demonstrates a technical skill that surpasses his co-stars, the remainder of the cast spend most of the play slipping in and out of British accents while delivering entire scenes standing still. Imprecision, I suppose, is the problem here; very few moments feel deliberate rather than accidental. Furthermore, Mr. Baguth seems to have aimed for circumspect but landed on boring, delivering his lines in a merciless monotone. Though Entertaining Mr. Sloane could warrant a soapy, Lynchian tone, here the flatness is just, well, flat. This may be the first time I have found murder, incest, and blackmail so darn boring.