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A CurtainUp NJ Review
What the Butler Saw
Civilizations have been founded and maintained on theories which refused to obey facts. — Dr. Rance
John Huston and Allison Layman (photo: Jerry Dalia)
British playwright Joe Orton was 43 when he was murdered by his male lover in 1976. Although his canon consists of fewer than a dozen plays and TV scripts they have steadfastly become the core of renewed interest in Orton himself and black comedy in general. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey"s production of his masterpiece What the Butler Saw has been brilliantly directed by Paul Mullins with all stops out for a riotous time. It is being performed by a splendid cast that brings all of the deranged human behavior in the play to the fore for the pure pleasure of it.

I'd be surprised if you didn't find yourself laughing at virtually every line and every bit of chaotic action. This is certainly a time when we can appreciate Orton's assaults on established conventions. At its best, which is virtually every minute, we are able to embrace the pervasive energy of the cast and the stunning explosions of Orton's red hot wit.

The title of the play is taken, not from any suggestion of an old-fashioned whodunit, but from those British peep-shows machines offering modest voyeuristic lubricity at the end of every sea-side pier. The plot concerns the madcap aftermath of an attempted seduction of a ditsy secretary by a clinic psychiatrist. Into the clinic walks the psychiatrist's nymphomaniac wife and the bellhop who has just assaulted her, followed by a pompous government inspector and a dense police sergeant.

During the nonsensical maneuvers, in which more cross-gender dressing and undressing occurs than you can keep track of, the playwright dazzles us with his ability to take ordinary logic to its most sublime denouement — illogical paranoia.

Vanessa Morosco is terrific as the over-sexed, over-the-brink wife whose degree of insanity can only be seen in relation to the insanity that defines every character. One looks on occasion for relief to Peter Simon Hilton as the earnestly befuddled and frustrated shrink as he keeps his eye on Allison Layman who is simply adorable as the easily compromised secretary.

Female impersonation reaches for its nadir as well as for the sublime in Robbie Simpson's performance as the amoral bellhop. The same can be said for Jeffrey M. Bender as Sergeant Match. Somewhere in between lies the wonderfully Boris Karloff-ian performance of John Hutton as the government interrogator Dr. Rance. And somewhere in the midst of all of them lies the insinuating sex, the out-of-the-closet capers and the vision that life and limbs have gone berserk. It is a miracle that Brittany Vasta's excellent fully-equipped setting — a clinic for the mentally challenged — survives when we hear a line such as "Things are getting out of control." We are, in the end, reminded that Orton was very much in control.

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What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton
Directed by Paul Mullins

Cast: Peter Simon Hilton (Doctor Prentice), Allison Layman (Geraldine Barclay), Vanessa Morosco (Mrs. Prentice), Robbie Simpson (Nicholas Beckett), John Hutton (Doctor Rance), Jeffrey M. Bender (Sergeant Match)
Scenic Designer: Brittany Vasta
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Costume Designer: Kristin Isola
Sound Designer: Steven L. Beckel
Production Stage Manager: Alison Cote
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey on the campus of Drew University
F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
(973) 408-5600
Performances: Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm.
From 09/06/17 Opened 09/08/17 Ends 10/01/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on evening performance 09/10/17

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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