ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE
When Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane opened on London’s West End back in 1964, a certain Mrs. Edna Welthorpe was inspired to write the Editor of Plays And Players as follows:
“I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humour. Today’s young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that ordinary people will shortly strike back.”
Mrs. Welthorpe’s comments, while indeed reflective of some theatergoers’ reactions to Orton’s subversive farce, also happen to reflect the playwright’s particular brand of dark humor. You see, it was Orton himself who wrote the letter!
Though even today, “ordinary decent people” like Mr. and Mrs. Michelle Bachmann would likely echo Mrs. Welthorpe’s condemnation of this piece of Ortonian “filth,” anyone with a funny bone in his or her body is hereby advised to make haste to Los Angeles’ newest 99-seat-plan theater where a fabulous revival of this Joe Orton gem is now delighting—and perhaps still shocking—L.A. audiences.
The titular Mr. Sloane (Emrhys Cooper) is a bottle-blond studmuffin of a 20-year-old who shows up one day in the lives of a blowsy London widow, her crotchety, near-blind father, and her leering letch of a brother—and makes their rubbish dump-adjacent house dump his home.
Lonely, lustful Kath (Olivia d’Abo) can barely keep her eyes (and hands and lips) off Mr. Sloane’s tanned-and-toned body, though it’s not merely lust that attracts her to the well-built orphan. His parents’ tragic suicide pact fills the sympathetic widow with oceans of compassion for the orphaned youth. (“With a nice lad like you to take care of, you’d think they’d’ve postponed it.”)
Kath’s father Kemp (Robin Gammell) could swear he’s already met young Mr. Sloane sometime, somewhere. Perhaps it’s the youth’s smooth skin, so similar to that of the hitchhiker who murdered his photographer boss, that sparks a memory, though Mr. Sloane insists otherwise. (“You couldn’t identify a herring on a plate!”)
Kath’s brother Ed (Ian Buchanan) seems initially to share his father’s distrust of Mr. Sloane, that is until he comes face to face with the alluring young bloke, and soon enough he’s eagerly quizzing the stripling on his orphanage upbringing. (“Oh well, you had compensations then,” Ed remarks when learning that the all-male orphans slept eight to a room.) Mr. Sloane’s affinity for fresh-air sports piques Ed’s interest as well. (Ed: You’re fond of swimming? Mr. Sloane: I like a plunge now and then.) Mr. Sloane’s fitness regimen proves equally stimulating to the older man. (Ed: Exercise regular? Mr. Sloane: As clockwork. Ed: Good, good. Stripped? Mr. Sloane: Fully. Ed: Complete. How invigorating.)
Not surprisingly, Ed agrees to let Mr. Sloane lodge with Sis and Dad, though he does require assurances that there’ll be no hanky-panky. (Ed: Does she disgust you? Mr. Sloane: Should she? Ed: It would be better if she did. Women are like banks, boy. Breaking and entering is a serious business.) Ed also hires Mr. Sloane to be his chauffeur, the better to have him … clad in black leather from head to toe.
In typical Orton fashion, somebody dies mid-play, and the manner in which the three surviving characters deal with the deceased’s demise makes Entertaining Mr. Sloane one of the farceur’s most deliciously devilish works.
If Mr. Sloane is allowed a good deal more on-and-offstage intimacy with Kath, it’s to be recalled that the same “gross indecency” laws that sent Oscar Wilde to jail for homosexual acts remained on the books until three years after Mr. Sloane first entertained and disgusted Londoners. Though a contemporary playwright would likely divvy up the sexual shenanigans equally between opposite and same-sex couplings, the fact that Orton even suggested the possibility of Mr. Sloane dividing his favors between sister and brother not only made him way ahead of his time but makes Entertaining Mr. Sloane of particular interest as a time-capsule, one which has lost not an iota of its comedic oomph in the intervening decades.
Under Stan Zimmerman’s pitch-perfect direction, Dream It Production’s intimate stage revival features as renowned a cast of stage and screen vets as you’d see on any mid or large-sized L.A. theater.
d’Abo (of The Wonder Years and Law & Order: Criminal Intent fame) abandons vanity as the slatternly Kath, her crackerjack comic timing and way with an innuendo making her performance an appetizing acting gem, as when she declares, “Until I was fifteen I was more familiar with Africa than my own body” and “You can’t see though this dress can you? I’ve been worried for fear of embarrassing you” and “(You’ll) have me naked on the floor if I give you a chance.”
Emmy-winning Buchannan has a field day with Ed, clearly relishing the opportunity to be funny after so many years of dramatic soap suds on The Bold And The Beautiful, All My Children, and other daytime dramas. Simply watching Buchannan’s medley of facial reactions (just this side of over-the-top) is almost worth the price of admission. Add to that his silver-fox sexiness and you have precisely the kind of man that might make Mr. Sloane’s walks on the gay side of his primarily heterosexual leanings far from unbelievable.
Gammell brings decades of stage experience to the role of Kemp, attacking the feeble-bodied curmudgeon with sly comedic panache to match his dramatic flair in plays like the Rubicon’s A Delicate Balance and Trying a few years back.
Wreaking havoc on the above three is the sensational and utterly appealing Cooper, whose L.A. stage debut as Mr. Sloane provides the young Brit with a terrific showcase for his tiptop acting chops, crackerjack comic timing, and irresistible sex-appeal. Lighting up the stage from his first entrance, Cooper simply couldn’t be better at bringing Orton’s amoral psychopath to seductive, occasionally violent, always captivating life.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane will likely introduce most theatergoers to the splendid new Actors Company Theater, located only two or three blocks from the world famous Formosa Café and the shops and restaurants of Target Plaza.
Joel David has designed the production’s terrifically tacky, beautifully detailed set, precisely where you’d expect Kath and Kemp to live, Daavid’s assorted 1960s paraphernalia completing the picture. Kevin King’s costumes tell you almost as much about the characters as Orton’s writing does. Top marks go also to Bosco Flanigan’s lighting design, Hector’s sound design, and Eusebio Aynaga’s hair design. Entertaining Mr. Sloane is produced by Richard Lutz, stage managed by Lara E. Nall, with casting by Geralyn Flood.
Even in a considerably more sexually liberated world than the one Joe Orton lived and died in in the 1960s, Entertaining Mr. Sloane may not be for everyone. (The Michelle Bachmanns would, I fear, not be amused.) Still, for those not afraid to laugh on the dark side, I can’t think of a more delectable way to do so. At the risk of repeating what others have likely said before, Entertaining Mr. Sloan is entertaining indeed.
The Actors Company
916 A. N. Formosa Ave, West Hollywood
July 8, 2011