EXAMINER: Entertaining Mr. Sloane

Joe Orton and Stan Zimmerman’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane

Andrea Kittelson, LA Comedy Examiner

Every play begins of course with a play – with words that are hoped to be in just the right order.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Joe Orton’s first full-length play written in 1964, begins with a script that is fraught with commentary yet is fiercely taut. Joe Orton might be the best at exploring complexity with vast efficiency.

And he is (or was) adept at exploring the evils of Man with a certain non-judgmental smirk (before his own lover beat him to death with a hammer – see Prick Up Your Ears!) which demonstrates his own sense of intrigue about what humans find amusing.

Orton’s economy starts with his choice of characters. Because the title character, Mr. Sloane, is an alleged orphan on the lamb, there are so many reasons he might or might not make a particular choice.

Do his flirtations stem from sexual desire or from the need to negotiate with others in order to survive?

When Mr. Sloane becomes the boy-toy of a man and his sister – the former, the boy’s employer, and the latter his landlady – we don’t know with certainty why. Is his sexuality a function of desire or of necessity? And if necessity, then which does he need more – a job or a place to live?

The landlady who seduces Mr. Sloane grieves over the loss of her child to adoption and the mysterious, yet alluded-to, way in which she might have obtained that child and the loneliness she most likely would have felt, anyway, had she been married and permanently with child. We don’t know what moves her. Is it grief, loneliness, guilt, gluttony, lust, compassion or pride?

Orton often put his characters into such situations that you never know for certain what their motivations (or full range of sentiments) exactly are. They might be motivated by instinct or want or godly muse. Such multiplicity of motivation is not all that common.

Playwrights often make it quite clear which singular force is driving a character, and the tension, then, lies in the dramatic irony – in that only the audience knows for sure from whence a character’s action springs.

In Entertaining Mr. Sloane, the characters are complex, and each is privy to his own collection of deep-seated motivations. The audience must then skim over a list of possibilities – each one as interesting as the next – and wonder.

Joe Orton’s economy is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s in that the characters, who all might appear to be simple, actually inhabit several planes, and their actions say a lot about a variety of topics, from personal idiosyncrasy, to culture, social class, geography, time, the presence of God and the cosmos. There is a “meta” thing going on here and an existentialism that poses questions about the role an individual plays in society and, of course, in a larger metaphysical milieu, which is rare.

Orton, like Beckett, was a master.

And who better to put on an Orton play than Dream It Productions’ Richard Lutz and Stan Zimmerman?

Stan Zimmerman’s direction is perfection. Under his thoughtful gaze each actor is free to explore the depths and range of his own capacity. The acting is organic and layered and smart.

Emrhys Cooper, as the manipulative Mr. Sloane, is adorable and ironically sincere. Cooper’s acting is bold and terraced and raw. This performance is, apparently, Cooper’s Los Angeles debut, and rather than simply fit into a community of seasoned theatrical pros, Cooper is poised to raise the bar.

Olivia d’Abo as Kath is also fantastic. The degree to which d’Abo explores earthiness and complexity is atypical in a city wherein so many actresses tend to play nymphomaniacal desperados as caricatures.

Ian Buchanan (Ed), too, is brilliant. He plays his character’s version of desperation with an intense mix of rage and lasciviousness that renders his character a delicious wolf to Mr. Sloane’s Little Red Riding Hood. This functions as an effective ruse because in reality it is arguably Mr. Sloane who is the wolf.

The father, aptly played by Robin Gammell, is a quiet blend of sad and cantankerous, proving him to be the most vulnerable of all four characters. He is the recipient of the other characters’ collective malevolence, which may or may not be out of collective necessity. He is the sacrificial old goat around whom the others orbit.

There is a timelessness to this theatrical event that does not limit its scope to 1964. This Absurd and dark tragicomedy is universal. Like Orton’s characters, we are, to this day and probably will be forever onward, inspired to act for untold myriad of reasons.

The sound effects are the only element in this production that smacks as less than superb. They seem a bit superimposed and underutilized and are therefore distracting. Otherwise, the design of the play fits with its sentiments.

This Dream It Productions’ rendition of Entertaining Mr. Sloane with its two brief intermissions (so there is sufficient opportunity to enjoy refreshments and bring them back to your seat, which boasts built-in cup-holders!) is the quintessential date play. It is lusty and clever, and it appeals to both men and women, gay or straight, erudite or lay. The subject matter and the language are accessible to all types of folks, from orphan to entrepreneur to cunning domestic worker.

So, hire a babysitter, grab your domestic partner and his or her domiciled (or not) chauffer, and head, ironically, by Vespa, scooter or bus to the theater.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane plays through July 24, 2011 at The Actors Company theater at 916 N. Formosa Ave. in West Hollywood.

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