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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Prurient Gaze

Theater Review

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  Casting an unwavering gaze at the darker side of human nature, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane was a critical hit when it was first staged in London in 1964. Its original run only lasted a few performances, but it left enough of a mark to become an enduring work by a very short-lived playwright. The story of a young drifter’s interactions with his landlady, her brother and father presented contemporary middle-class society as remarkably ugly and dysfunctional. Running through June 1, Off The Wall’s presentation of the play is impressively uneven, but well worth a sidelong, prurient glance from the morbidly curious.

  Alexander Bednall stars as the troubled title character—a young man with a dark past who has come to rent a room from a woman named Kath (Shannon Sloan-Spice.) Kath’s flirtatious nature is charming enough, but Sloane also has to deal with Kath’s abusive brother Ed (Karl Miller) and her aging father (David Roper) who may know something about his past.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane is usually described as a dark, anarchic comedy. There’s a potent, acidic venom in Orton’s dialogue that has the potential to deliver a uniquely sophisticated, intellectually offensive humor. The Off The Wall production shoots straight through the delicate nuance that would deliver the humor. Lines are delivered well, with believable emotion, but almost entirely without the kind of spite Orton seemed to carve into the script.

  The failure of the comedy would make this production almost entirely unpleasant were it not for the fact that the cast delivers the heated drama of the play as impressively as it does. Bednall delivers anger and spite in thoroughly entertaining form. There’s a kind of hunger in his demeanor that’s interesting to watch. His restless frustration isn’t bad, either. Miller doesn’t cut an imposing enough figure to seem truly threatening in the role of Ed, but what he lacks in ferocity he makes up for in sheer seediness. Orton casts Kath and her father in some pretty unflattering light, but Roper and Sloan-Spice manage to render a profound amount of dignity in very human performances.

  Without a sophisticated delivery of Orton’s humor, Mr. Sloane has the unpleasant distinction of feeling like watching people yell at each other for two hours. The cast holds up remarkably well, however. The performances are compelling enough to hold the audience’s attention even if the characters aren’t entirely pleasant.