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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REVIEW: Labour and Leisure (AstonRep Theatre)

  
   

Scant balm for the working man

  
  

Good-Faithful Servant 1

  
AstonRep Theatre Company presents
   
Labour & Leisure
   
Written by Joe Orton
Directed by
Ray Kasper and Robert Tobin
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through Dec 11  |  tickets: $12   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Swinging into Christmas pageant season, few shows currently playing are as relevant or timely as AstonRep Theatre Company’s remount of lesser-known Joe Orton works under the title Labour & Leisure. Orton is best known for savaging hypocritical middle class morality in Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw. One finds his queer eye at work in both of AstonRep’s twin productions The Good and Faithful Servant, directed by Ray Kasper, and The Erpingham Camp, directed by Robert Tobin. But his blue-collar origins in Leicester and a six-month stint in jail, for hilariously defacing library books, schooled Orton well in the corrupt hypocrisies of capitalist civilization. What better Christmas present could jobless Chicagoans give themselves (besides a job) than a gander at these miniature productions, with a few well-placed caveats, of course?

Erpingham-Hysterical-Eileen-WebThe Heartland Studio is a merciless black box. Kasper’s direction and Jeremiah Barr’s scenic design don’t really resolve the difficulties of setting apart clean and recognizable scene spaces in The Good and Faithful Servant. The cast struggles to ensure smooth transitions from scene to scene, but to no avail. At least Mrs. Vealfoy (Amy Kasper), one of the upper echelons of “the firm,” has a fine perch from which to dominate any hapless individual who enters her lair.

Thankfully, not just Mrs. Vealfoy, but Amy Kasper dominates the show. Kasper knows how to give her ruthless corporate villainess just the right touch of flirtatious charm. So whether she is ordering about the meek and deferential (read: enslaved) Buchanan (Jeff McVann), drawing Debbie (Sara Greenfield) into her schemes, or roping Ray (John Collins) under her oppressive wings, one feels the emotional compulsion to go along with whatever she wants. Only the strong survive in this world. The weak get black lung and a flaming toaster for 45 years of life-sapping service.

McVann, as Buchanan, is terribly strong in his comic portrayal of the stiffed working stiff. His opening scene, where Buchanan prosaically reunites with his long lost love Edith (Barbara Button), is a model of comic understatement. Button makes an excellent and charming comic partner. However, slips in dialect from her and other cast members adversely impact their performances. Greenfield does a humorous turn in both plays as an excessively pregnant young woman, but her pairing with Collins doesn’t match the strong comic connections formed between McVann and Button. Collins himself needs to bring a little more punk to his role as Ray, even if his working class roué ultimately capitulates to the firm in the end.

Erpingham-Press-1-WebThe cast of The Erpingham Camp fairs much better, if for no other reason than they get to work in less cumbersome space. Ms. Vealfoy’s perch is preserved for Mr. Erpingham (Jeff McVann), the ruler . . . uh . . . owner of this eponymous recreational resort. Here, McVann gives us pompous, self-absorbed, dictatorial asshole with both barrels, while the ill-used Chief Redcoat Riley (Kipp Moorman) sucks up to his boss in order to win the job of entertainment director during the camp’s evening entertainments. At first, Mr. Erpingham refuses. He has a much better suck-up, both figuratively and literally, in the otherwise absurdly useless Padre (Ray Kasper), the camp’s resident man of the cloth.

Nevertheless, Riley finally wins his favorite position when the camp’s entertainment director dies and no one else can fill his place. Entertainment at Erpingham Camp relies on the exuberant, if pedestrian, talents of buxom Jessie Mason (Charlie Casino) and nervous W. E. Harrison (John Collins). As for the victims/campers, Ted (Ian Knox) and Lou (Kathleen Lawlor) make for perfect conservative professional twits matched against the ultra-pregnant Eileen (Sara Greenfield) and her muscular, doltish working class husband, Kenny (Johnny Garcia).

Of course, Riley fucks it up and, of course, his fuck-up leads to a camp revolt of epic proportions. I’m just grateful that he made “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” as gay as possible before the revolution.

In the wake of revolt, Mr. Erphingham and his pal, the Padre, come across like Hitler and his entourage in their last days in the bunker. Their pronouncements on art, religion, order and the classes are distinctly funny. Heaven only knows why they think they still have control of things, but the revolutionaries are not much better. Ted and Lou seem to think they can run this revolt using the civil defense handbook, while Kenny only needs to apotheosize his pregnant wife to justify tearing the camp down.

However, the award for best insanity of the night goes to Moorman, for impeccably delivering, as Riley, the most beautifully ridiculous and untruthful eulogy for Mr. Erpingham. Even for the little guy, there comes a moment of vindication.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Erpingham-Love,-Divine-1Web

 

Production Personnel

Cast: Barbara Button, Charlie Cascino, John Collins, Johnny Garcia, Sara Greenfield, Amy Kasper, Ray Kasper, Ian Knox, Kathleen Lawlor, Jeff McVann, and Kipp Moorman.

Production Team: Direction by Ray Kasper and Robert Tobin, Stage Management by Samantha Barr. Set, lighting, and prop design by Jeremiah Barr. Fight choreography by Charlie Cascino. Graphic Design by Lea Tobin.

     
     

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