Theater Review: LOOT (Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)

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by Barry Creyton on June 10, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


At a time when drawing room comedies ruled West End theatre, and even the shock of the raw emotions depicted in Osborne’s Look Back in Anger had faded, a complacent London audience enjoyed such safe, heartwarming fare as Hello, Dolly!, and the water-thin comedy There’s a Girl in my Soup. Then in 1966 Joe Orton’s Loot exploded onto the British stage and set a new standard for dark, subversive cynicism.

The principal shock of Anger was provided by the presence of an ironing board on stage, something a West End audience had never, in their worst dreams, thought to see beyond a proscenium arch. At lights up in Loot, we’re treated to a cadaver resting in a coffin — but not for long. The body of Mrs. McLeavy, selflessly played by Selena Woolery-Smith at the Odyssey Theatre, is subjected to every conceivable indignity one can impose on a corpse, excluding necrophilia, though that is certainly alluded to in this belly-laugh-inducing, scathingly witty, ultimate black farce.

Orton’s perfectly turned phrasing gives a Wildean resonance to even a seemingly trite aphorism, elevating it to a gem of satirical wit. And no, I’m not going to quote one here for the simple reason that they belong in the context of the play which, without too much carping, I urge you to see.

The plot, like the truth, is rarely pure and never simple: Two middle class lads of indeterminate sexuality have robbed a bank. By happy coincidence, their mother rests in anything but peace in a coffin awaiting burial. The mother’s conniving nurse Fay, a serial widow, may or may not have been instrumental in her demise. When an authority threatens exposure, the boys swap mom with the money — she in the closet, the loot in the coffin.

From there you’re on your own.

The production begins a little too casually for my taste in farcical comedy, but that said, a pace is soon established and reaches full throttle with the introduction of Police Inspector Truscott, brusquely and briskly played to perfection by Ron Bottitta.

The boys are slathered with disarming charm — Robbie Jarvis as Hal, whose compulsive honesty undermines his cunning, and Alex James-Phelps as the cheeky Dennis, uncertain as to which gender on whom to bestow his sexual favors.

Elizabeth Arends is a lethally attractive Fay, whose Agatha Christie-like confession highlights the second act. Nicholas Hormann scores as the recently widowed McLeavy when his bafflement reached peaks of incomprehension. Set (Keith Mitchell), costumes (Michael Mullen) and lighting (Christine Ferriter) serve Bart DeLorenzo’s hugely enjoyable production well.

Orton might have been a product of his age — an time when John Lennon declared the Beatles more popular than Jesus, where free love became truly free, Concorde ruled the Atlantic, British censorship was abolished, and homosexuality decriminalized. But Loot survives its “permissive” age and is only marginally less shocking today in its denunciation of society, societal norms and the establishment. Had Orton lived longer than his tragically short thirty-four years, one wonders with every new production of his three major works, Entertaining Mister Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw, what heights he might’ve hit with successive plays. That these three survive and seem fresh today is a testament to his talent, a revelation for new audiences, and a bonus for old.

photos by Enci Box

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd in West L.A.
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2; Wed at 8 (July 10 & 31);
Thurs at 8 (Aug 8); dark July 19-21
ends on August 10, 2019
for tickets, call 310.477.2055 or visit Odyssey

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