June 22, 2019 | By Bruce R. Feldman
“Loot,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Los Angeles, June 8 – August 10, 2019
In Brief: Orton’s untidy showpiece is a macabre farce about a scheming nurse, two dissolute young bank robbers, an errant corpse, and the lumbering detective who tries to connect the dots. While proficient in most respects, the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production never rises to the full measure of the author’s delicious perversity or punishing humor.
Everyone in the McLeavy household is troubled about something. Mr. McLeavy mourns for his wife, who is to be buried this day. Fay, her scheming caregiver, needs a new job, or at least a new source of income. McLeavy’s shiftless son Hal and his sometime lover Dennis just robbed a bank and don’t know where to hide the cash.
Nicholas Hormann, Ron Bottitta, Robbie Jarvis, Elizabeth Arends, Selina Woolery Smith and Alex James-Phelps in "Loot" (Photo: Enci Box)
Inspector Truscott, charged with solving the bank heist, also suspects that Mrs. McLeavy might have been murdered.
If all of this sounds preposterous, well, that’s precisely Orton’s point. In his everyday life, as in his writing, he campaigned against convention and propriety at every turn. He was a prankster – once jailed for defacing library books by typing false blurbs on the jackets. His biographer, John Lahr, called him an “enemy of order.”
It is no surprise then that his writing embodied his deeply held preference for incongruity and chaos, as well as his disdain for conventional behavior. This was his reality, jarring as it might have seemed to British audiences of his time.
“Laughter is a serious business and comedy a weapon,” Orton wrote in 1963.
That was a year before Entertaining Mr. Sloan, the first of his three full-length plays, opened in London. Loot followed in 1965, then What the Butler Saw, a few years after his untimely death in 1967.
Orton was as unrelenting as he was unapologetic. His output was slight, but the plays were eye-openers, bursting with incongruity, invective, and caustic humor. Not all of this comes through in the production of Loot now on stage at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
Robbie Jarvis and Alex James-Phelps (Photo: Enci Box)
Under Bart DeLorenzo’s orderly direction, the overall effect is muted. It’s not nearly as funny as it should be. Orton’s defiant message is there, but the jabs and jokes land mostly with a snicker at best, occasionally with a thud.
This is a measured staging rather than an inspired one.
The professional cast seems capable enough and might have risen to the occasion with more energetic guidance. While Keith Mitchel’s set is fine – appropriately staid and a little shabby – Christine Ferriter’s flat lighting does nothing to punctuate the play’s inherent farcicality.
Still, a tame version of Loot is worth watching, if only to direct the viewer back to the printed text of Orton’s groundbreaking play. As I reread it and envisioned it in my mind’s eye, I laughed out loud a lot.
I wish that I could say the same about the stage version I had just seen.