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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Orton's cheeky send-ups of established institutions were stylistically modeled on the same classic works that have always fascinated Red Bull founder and director Jesse Berger. And since Orton's career was sadly cut short by his untimely death at age thirty-four, he has become a member of that dead playwrights society whose members' work deserves to be kept alive by enterprising and appreciative producers.
Loot, no longer sends shock waves through audiences as it did when it premiered in 1966, but when done right, its coal-black humor and Wildean wit remains intact. Fortunately that's exactly what Red Bull's Jesse Berger has done. He has assembled a superb cast and directed them to play it straight even while maintaining its farcical edge.
In a roller coaster ride if mishaps Orton assaults Catholic piety, middle class complacency, intolerance of homosexuals, police inefficiency and corruption. Despite all the madcap shenanigans involving dead bodies and stolen cash, this remains a neatly structured farce with the traditional third and fourth doors provided by an armoire and the set's central prop, a coffin. The characters all fit the playwright's own preferred personas, which in his own words, makes them "profoundly bad but irresistibly funny."
Even Mr. McLeavy (Jarlath Conroy) a basically good man mourning his about to be buried wife, is not immune to Orwell's perception of the human race's moral fallibility and a society that entraps the good guys into the prevailing moral morass. He's shocked when Fay (Rebecca Brooksher), his late wife's nurse confronts him with "You've been a widower for three days. Have you considered a second marriage?" Yet, he's not really put off by the sexy woman in white's obvious pitch to be the next Mrs. McLeavy. If McLeavy takes the bait, he would be the eighth widower to do so — with obvious results.
In addition to the scheming Fay, and the bereaved, befuddled and basically decent McLeavy, we have a trio of other bumblers to insure that Mrs. McLeavy's funeral will not go off smoothly. First on scene is McLeavy's son, Hal (Nick Westrake). He and his lover Dennis (Ryan Garbayo) have robbed the bank next door to the funeral parlor and as the play opens the money is stashed in the Armoire at one side of the McLeavy's living room. To avoid being caught, they decide to hide the money in the coffin. Unsurprisingly, it won't hold both money and Hal's mom, so the body is unceremoniously stuffed into the Armoire.
To further darken the plot, Truscott (Rocco Sisto), a snooping police detective who, despite looking and acting exactly like the bullying, homophobic Scotland Yard officer he is insinuates himself into the already fraught situation by insisting he is a Water Board inspector.
The actors playing this motley bunch from mishap to mishap couldn't be better. Jarlath Conroy plays the hapless widower with just the right degree of bewilderment and eventual outrage at the ever increasing insanity around him. Rebecca Brooksher, whose acting I've admired in more serious roles, here proves that she's more than up to inhabiting an over-the-top comic character like Fay. Mr. Berger's entrance for her is a directorial coup: She is seen as a shadow about to enter the room, crossing herself as if entering a church. That initial image is a wonderful foreshadowing introduction to Orton's deliciously pious but wicked villainess.
Nick Westrate is spot-on as the crooked Hal with his inconvenient urges to tell the truth. Ryan Garbayo is fine as his bi-sexual partner in crime. But it's Rocco Sisto who has the showiest and funniest role as the inept, know-it-all Truscott who like Fay exemplifies the authority figures Orton condemned for their hypocritical ability to be at once righteous and corrupt.
Narelle Sissons's set is aptly detailed and tasteless. The hospital screen that's a holdover from Mrs. McLeavy's final days and now serves the various bits of business can be viewed as adding another to the already mentioned requisite farce doors. The actors are funny enough without a lot of sight gags like the wreath in the form of a winning Bingo card.
If a lot of business with mummified corpses sounds excessively bizarre, bear in mind Orton's own assessment of his comedies (The Orton Diaries): "People think I write fantasy, but I don't. Some things may be exaggerated or distorted, but they're realistic figures. . . There's nothing incredible about it." Though nowadays something of an artifact, as scripted by Orton and performed by the Red Bull cast, it's still lots of fun.