Joe Orton’s writing requires acrobatic skills. Think The Marx Brothers meet the Flying Karamazov Brothers. He uses language as if each word were a flaming torch to be tossed at the other actors or even past the lights and out into the audience. It requires a facile tongue and the understanding that when you speak at a brisk pace your pronunciation is all about the consonants. Vowels take care of themselves.
The above is a set of ideas that was not driven home to the actors in this production of Loot now at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Had they been made aware, I am convinced that this production would have lost 20 minutes off its girth. As it is, what I saw was a plodding, if well intentioned, presentation of a play that is so whack-o it does not ask you to think. It asks you to buckle up and hold tight.
Mrs.McLeavy has died. What we can see of her has been laid out in a casket in her former living room. Mr. Mcleavy (Jarlath Conroy) is beside himself with grief and accepting consolation from Mrs. M’s young, blonde, widowed many times over, nurse named Fay (Rebecca Brooksher). How Fay got to be where she is we never find out, but it is not important. She is on the case and that is all that matters.
Enter Hal McLeavy (Nick Westrate) along with his best mate Dennis (Ryan Garbayo) who have stolen a few kazillion pounds from a local bank, and it is hidden in the wardrobe (the one whose doors continually yawn open and not on purpose). The idea is to put the money in the coffin along with Mrs. M and let it be hidden there. When there proves to be too much money (and there was not too much money – note to props department) the body and the money switch places. Body in the wardrobe, money in the coffin.
When a local “waterboard inspector” Truscott (Rocco Sisto) makes a professional call, everything pretty much falls apart. There is great heaving and hauling of the now wrapped corpse of Mrs. M. And of course there is the glass eye that has popped out of her head in all the commotion. Soon Truscott reveals himself to be a little more than meets the eye and everyone is a suspect, though of what he is not certain.
This is a political comedy of errors. Life is cheap. So is love. Family ain’t all that important. But an inspector on his toes can straighten all that out – for a hefty price.
As I said, the actors are not on top of their material in general, and in the case of Rocco Sistro not on top of the lines either. Jesse Berger’s direction is all over the place: accents, props and lines all assembled in a haphazard manner. Orton requires precision that makes it look as though no one was trying. The “Profoundly bad” require a skilled nimble touch to turn them into the “irresistibly funny.” This production misses the mark. Not for want of trying, however. Somehow it just sneaked out of the barn and wandered off.
Luckily I have the script to turn to. Sometimes playwrights have to be enjoyed straight up.
LOOT by Joe Orton, Directed by Jesse Berger
WITH: Rebecca Brooksher, Eric Martin Brown, Jarlath Conroy, Ryan Garbayo, Rocco Sisto and Nick Westrate.
Set by Narelle Sissons, Costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti, Lights by Scott Zielinski
Presented by Red Bull Theater, Lucille Lortel Theater 121 Christopher Street 212-352-3101, redbulltheater.com through February 9th