Review: Entertaining Mr. Sloane (Project 891 Theatre)

  
  

Project 891 gives us sly, subversive, down-low Joe Orton

 
 
  Tracy Garrison, David Schaplowsky Aaron Kirby, David Schaplowsky  

Project 891 Theatre presents
 
Entertaining Mr. Sloane
  
Written by Joe Orton
Directed by
Ron Popp
at
City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Project 891 Theatre Company loves to take little trips down memory lane. What they’ve struck upon with Entertaining Mr. Sloane is a period piece wherein audiences may recall the subversion that “gay” once was–and that queer deconstructive politics constantly tries to resurrect. Ron Popp’s direction belies a delicate understanding of each character’s psychological state, yet unstintingly serves up gay transgression in its original down-low incarnation–with all its seedy, low-rent perspective intact.

Tracy Garrison, Aaron Kirby, David SchaplowskyAs such, Project 891’s rough and simple production reinvigorates an interrogation of the pretensions of middle class respectability from a queer position. It is as refreshing as it is dangerous. All the same, be prepared for this production’s emphasis on the emotional more than farcical elements of Joe Orton’s dark comedy. Whether Popp has given us a kinder, gentler slant on Orton’s work is a question worthy of debate—it certainly goes for quieter laughs and for deeply nuanced performance.

Kath (Tracy Garrison) rents out a room to young Mr. Sloane (Aaron Kirby), a self-confessed orphan, in the hopes of someday being able to afford a rest home for her father, Kemp (Gary Murphy). Garrison immediately sets up Kath’s emotional, as well as sexual, neediness in her negotiations with Sloane. Fear of scandal and censure from the neighbors motivates her cover story as a widow—she is actually an unwed mother who had to surrender her child, who would now be Sloane’s age. Garrison accurately conveys the mentality of a woman who has always had to settle for very little, yet persistently, yearningly inches for every little bit more. Her psychologically incestuous attraction to Mr. Sloane only enhances her thinly veiled desperation and wittily contrasts with her neurotic observance of propriety.

Kirby possesses all the handsomeness and charm his role requires. Rather than digging into the salaciousness of his character, however, he projects sly and equanimous content in letting others project their desires upon him. Besides his chemistry with Garrison, it’s a pleasure to watch his Sloane play sexual straight man (if that word can be used) to Ed (David Schaplowsky), Kath’s closeted brother, who shares her obsessions with propriety and terror of social opprobrium. Shaplowsky is never more hilarious than when Ed insists upon the purity of manly virtues, excoriates the conniving lusts of women—particularly his sister—or when he becomes shocked at evidence of Sloane’s coitus with her. In addition, he renders some truthfully tender moments for Ed, in surprising and sympathetic contrast to his usual closeted, social-climbing, misogynist douchebaggery.

Aaron Kirby, Tracy GarrisonGarrison, Kirby and Shaplowsky make a cunning ménage a trois. The trickier part seems to be to integrate Murphy’s performance as Kemp, “the Dada,” into the whole proceedings. Kemp’s initial encounter with Sloane drags and seems leaden, even with its revelation of the terrible secret Kemp has over him. Also, Sloane’s attack on Kemp needs far edgier veracity, both in fight choreography and Sloane’s sudden expressions of psychopathology. This production is terribly interesting, in that it makes a case for Sloane’s pathology being the result of his hypocritical environment—but that cannot be allowed to dull the shock of violence that Orton’s script demands.

Plus, other basic flaws in execution, like dialect slippage and technical trouble with lighting on opening night, keep this production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane from being a truly superlative one. Hopefully, there will be corrections in the course of the run–its delicate and nuanced aspects are truly worth seeing. By the time Ed and Kath have sealed the deal on Sloane, we pity him, for all his murderous tendencies. Old age and treachery shall always overcome youth and skill. Indeed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

    Tracy Garrison Aaron Kirby, Gary Murphy   

Entertaining Mr. Sloan continues through March 27th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8P and Sundays at 2P. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online. Go to project891theatre.com for more info.

[http://youtu.be/lu6Nk75zM5o]

           

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