Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Joe Orton’s plays embody the outlaw, anti-authoritarian, and promiscuous spirit of the 1960s. Unfortunately, his untimely murder at the hands of his lover means that his reputation is essentially based on three plays. Still, the influence of those plays has been incalculable, inspiring writers with their sexual frankness and their nose-thumbing attitude towards those in power.

So it is no surprise that the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble chose Orton’s Loot to inaugurate their 50th Anniversary Season, which will celebrate a number of seminal theatre works written in the years surrounding the theatre’s founding.

Loot is Orton’s twisted version of a crime caper. The thieves are a pair of gay lovers, the damsel in distress is a devoutly Catholic husband-killer, the police inspector is a dim-witted thug, and the stolen cash is stashed in the coffin of the mother of one of the robbers.

Orton productions are relatively scarce. Probably because they are difficult to pull off successfully. For a start, they are unapologetically British. Then there is Orton’s heightened language, a wonderfully rich concoction with notes of Wilde and Pinter. Most challenging is getting the tone correct. Emphasizing the farcical elements may dull the satiric blade. Playing the scenes too realistically will flatten the comedy. It’s a tightrope that the director must walk throughout rehearsals.

Luckily, Bart DeLorenzo is a director who keenly understands Orton and is able to guide his excellent cast in the strongest production of the show I’ve seen. DeLorenzo trusts his material, keeps a tight grip on the proceedings, and allows the play to speak for itself. The result is a production that skewers today’s pretensions with as much skill as Orton’s original targets.

The cast is pitch-perfect starting with Nicholas Hormann’s hilariously hapless patriarch, McLeavy. Elizabeth Arends moves effortlessly from pious to manipulative as the Black Widow nurse, Fay. As the earnest Hal, Robbie Jarvis appears to be more in love with Dennis than with his larcenous career. Alex James-Phelps’ Dennis is the brains of the robbery and has the kind of sexual magnetism that keeps both Hal and Fay on a string. Ron Bottitta nabs every laugh as the pompous and shockingly incompetent police inspector, Truscott.  Selina Woolery Smith easily wins the award for most abused actor playing both the dead body and Truscott’s assistant, Meadows.

This production of Loot should be on the list of any devoted theatergoer, but the other rarely seen shows in the Odyssey’s season look just as intriguing.

Odessey Theatre    June 8 – August 10, 2019     OdysseyTheatre.com