While researching for this article, I discovered that Joe Orton’s life is an emotional conundrum. How a talented working class boy achieves a modicum of theatrical success with a couple of well regarded plays ends up bludgeoned to death at the age of thirty-four by his long time lover and collaborator, Kenneth Halliwell, in their cramped flat, is a poser. After delivering the nine hammer blows that killed the playwright, the perpetrator offed himself with an overdose of Nembutal. Loot, a giddy romp of a play, peopled with absurd characters more than a little light in the brains department, stands in stark contrast to his short life and tragic death.
When this audience member filed into Odyssey’s Theatre 3, it took not too many seconds to appreciate the box set, and then focus on the coffin down center, which contained a female body. I am pretty sure I gaped, then stared, seeing if the body thus presented was, number one, real—it is—and number two, if the actor so positioned could keep from twitching even a little bit. She can. She has my absolute admiration. The corpse is that of an elderly woman named Mrs. McLeavey (Selina Woolery Smith).
When the theatre darkened and the action started, a first class cast of terrific players took hold of the show and it was off to the absurd comedy races. The deceased’s husband, Mr. McLeavey (tall, handsome, magisterial Nicholas Hormann), seems more miffed than grief stricken. He is more or less consoled by his wife’s attractive nurse, Fay (svelte Elizabeth Arends), a woman with an agenda. McLeavey’s ne’er-do-well son, Hal (the lanky, bubbly Robbie Jarvis), is a cheerful sort at total odds with his dad. He has a criminal enterprise, as well as a hot romance going, with Dennis (compact, adorable Alex James-Phelps), who swings both ways. There is way too much action going on around the coffin, the body, and a considerable stash of bundled bank notes to identify here. Wouldn’t want to undercut the fun of discovery. Let’s just say the action is Keaton-esque, by which I mean highly physical. And there are no good guys.
The stick that stirs the pot arrives in the form of a “water department inspector,” named Truscott (the indefatigable Ron Bottitta), who is, of course, no such thing. He talks loudly and authoritatively as he takes over the house, clearly looking for bank robbers and the loot of the title, which shifts around with the body in hilariously inventive ways.
Enthusiastically directed by Bart DeLorenzo, the cast often plays straight out to the audience in a Brechtian presentational style. The show is as fast paced as a farce should be, and, judging from the audience response on a Sunday afternoon, Loot is clearly a crowd pleasure.
The creative team for Loot includes set designer Keith Mitchell, lighting designer Christine Ferriter, costume designer Michael Mullen and properties designer Josh La Cour. Bo Powell is the assistant director, as well as the sound designer, responsible, I am guessing, for the splendid playlist of 1960s British rock that enlivened the preshow and intermission, and which produced an autonomic response in me that had my toes tapping and my body twitching to the beat, to mild annoyance of my seat mate. The stage is expertly managed by Laurien Allmon.
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Joe Orton’s Loot continues through August 10 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.