British playwright Joe Orton is probably best remembered for his loopy yet fiery comedy's “Loot” and “What the Butler Saw”. But his seminal piece was “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” a 1964 trouble-making work now being revived by 2nd Story Theatre in Warren.
When you enter 2nd Story's upstairs performing space these nights you'll be greeted by some real oldies. No, not the ushering staff. The recorded music being played: Petula Clark's “Downtown” The Seekers “Georgy Girl” and even “She's Not There” by the Zombies.
The music sets the stage for “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” a flawed black – very black – comedy that still has something to say about the world as a trash pit.
Written by fledgling playwright Joe Orton, “Sloane” rips and roars into a society where everybody can be very bad, very malicious. It throws together four people who truly deserve each other.
We begin with Kath, in her 40s (or maybe 50s). She still thinks she's 24 or so and manages to put aside the truth about the baby she had out of wedlock – which her brother Ed, gave away, perhaps because Kath seduced his male partner, just for the fun of it.
In comes Mr. Sloane. He's a young hunk filled with ornery ness and a thorough disgust for the world around him. He's a handsome and muscular devil, though, and Kath is after him. She succeeds in seducing him, on the living room couch. This is much to the dismay of brother Ed, who has his own sexual plans for Mr. Sloane.
Finally, the group is joined by Kemp, father to Kath and Ed. He's a wrinkled old guy who once threw Ed out of the house and now depends on Kath for a distinctly goofy home.
Theater folk have always liked to do this play. It's filled with oddball and tricky characters and it definitely has a black (and blue) outlook about the world. But the question has to be asked about whether “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” is still relevant, still worth seeing a half century later.
The answer here is probably not. Orton's play is truly a young man's work. It scatters fire all over the place, going down too many roads he never connects. It's perhaps a cry of the heart. But of the mind? Not so much. Its claim to importance is that it was a measure of its time, the beginning of huge social and political change that was 1964.
At 2nd Story artistic director Ed Shea has given it a zooming run, taking what was originally a three-act play and presenting it in an intermission less 85 minutes. This has the cast crackling away, moving at a pace that perhaps never lets you think clearly.
The always resourceful Rae Mancini is forced to be over-the-top as Kath. Cory Crew manages to give us a Mr. Sloane who is nicely creepy, full of malicious anger. Tom Roberts is a nicely goofy mean old man. And John Michael Richardson grows on you as an unappealing rich guy who can be very funny.
But in the end, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.” filled with anger, misogyny and a deep disgust for the world, is a very young play. True, it pointed to better things, plays with more maturity, an acceptance of the world as it is.
Unfortunately, Joe Orton died at the hands of his lover at the age of 34.
“Entertaining Mr. Sloane” continues at 2nd Story Theatre through May 31st.
Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.
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