A Definitive Joe Orton Production @ the Actors Company

Entertaining Mr. Sloane
by Joe Orton
Directed by Stan Zimmerman
The Actors Company
through July 24

Long before the term dysfunctional family took flight, there was Joe Orton. Long before crude and obscene behavior became the norm … there was perpetrator Joe Orton. In 1964 Entertaining Mr. Sloane played in a small underground theatre in London, as its portrayal of sexually explicit and violent behavior was too radical, in fact, illicit for West Enders. All that changed quickly and Orton’s dark, depraved views came to broader light, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now a thoroughly authentic production of the play puts the Actors Company in the forefront of top-notch LA theatre.

Most important in a play of this nature is the ring of truth, and that means keeping the piece intensely English. Sloane (Emrhys Cooper) is an orphan and con artist fancied by his unbalanced landlady Kath (Olivia d’Abo)and her wealthy and successful businessman brother Ed (Ian Buchanan). Both of them have their way with Sloane, as he attempts to climb the social ladder. Kemp, Kath and Ed’s aging father (Robin Gammell), who also lives with Kath and her new boarder Sloane, recognizes him from a previous encounter with his employer, which may entail murder. What ensues among all of the characters is revolting and somewhat upsetting even by today’s standards, as they all try to carve out a little bit of happiness through the abuse and at the expense of others. Orton is not only a master at digging into an individual’s psyche, pulling out the most prurient and sordid desires and making them play at top speed, but also at representing the fierce, brutal manipulation of one person over another irregardless of his social status. It’s dog eat dog, a concept certainly ahead of its time in the experimental 60s.

The cast is superb. Cooper is a sensual treat as Sloane, who is at his most volatile when any obstacle stands in his way. Buchanan is despicably suave and cunning, Gammell is appropriately feisty and fearlessly irritating, but it is d’ Abo who truly steals the show. As the 41 year-old disillusioned frump, she has a veritable field day with the seduction of Sloane, unafraid of where unbridled lasciviousness will take her. A beautifully unrestrained performance!

Zimmerman’s direction is crisp with perfect pacing, and it does help that all the actors are British and know how to speak the language properly, even though the regional accents seem a tad too thick to understand at first. The set of the sitting room of the run-down tenement has just the right appearance with Joel Daavid credited as artistic director and props.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane is not to be missed. Even if you have seen the play before, the Actors Company does Orton proud, and you are not likely to see a finer production anywhere.

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