Time has dulled the shock of Joe Orton’s “Loot.”
But it has not dulled the laughter that comes fast, loud and frequently in this 1966 play by the British playwright, whose writing career was cut short when his lover murdered him not long after this play became a hit in London.
Live Theatre Workshop’s production of “Loot” whips us back to the mid-1960s (pre-show music including tunes by Eric Burdon and the Animals helps) and quickly gives us permission to lap up Orton’s anarchic humor, clever writing and outlandish situations.
It’s a farce
Here’s the situation: Mr. McLeavy, an older gentleman and devout Catholic, is mourning the death of his wife, whose casket sits in the drawing room of his apartment. Fay, the nurse who cared for his wife in her final days, wears black lace stockings and is convinced a fortnight is the appropriate time for Mr. McLeavy to wait before marrying again. And, of course, he should marry Fay, who has already buried seven husbands.
McLeavy’s son, Hal, is a thief who cannot lie. He and his friend, Dennis, have robbed the bank that sits next to the funeral home where Dennis works. The loot is hidden in the locked wardrobe in the drawing room. But Hal and Dennis decide that it would be far wiser to hide the money in the casket — and Mrs. McLeavy’s body in the wardrobe — until the heat is off and they can exhume the casket and take the money and run.
Things go completely awry when Truscott, a Scotland Yard inspector, barges in, representing himself as a member of the local water board. The water board, it seems, does not need a warrant to search. And it’s just easier to bully people if he pretends he isn’t a cop.
All hell breaks loose from there.
Nothing is sacred to Orton, which ups the hilarity. Among those he skewers:
- British law enforcement — at one point, Fay claims she is innocent until proven guilty. “Who’s been filling your head with that rubbish?” Inspector Truscott responds
- , going on to tell her that if he is forced to forge her confession it could prejudice her case
- The Catholic church, hypocrisy — McLeavy values a framed picture of Pope Pius XII, who is said to have been a Nazi sympathizer
- , and definitely was silent when the Germans began exterminating Jews during World War II, is displayed with pride in McLeavy’s house
- Death — McLeavy mourns his wife’s death while rejoicing that she had the good sense to die when roses were in bloom. And the treatment of poor Mrs. McLeavy’s body was shocking when the show was first staged, and is even a bit shocking today.
Farce won’t work if the actors aren’t committed and take it very seriously. They were both and more in this LTW production.
Rhonda Hallquist’s comedic sense is pristine in her portrayal of Fay, a murderess, seductress, and thief. Stephen Frankenfield and Steve Wood played Dennis and Hal respectively, and they both plunged into the farcical elements of the play with abandon. Michael F. Woodson, a bumbling Mr. McLeavy, perfectly conveyed the man’s sorrow at the loss of his wife, as well as the character’s duplicity and willful ignorance of crimes that explode in his house and around him. Nick Trice’s Truscott, a detective with no moral backbone, was a hoot, as was Ed Fuller, in the small, almost wordless role of Meadows, Truscott’s sidekick. The whole cast embraced the subversive silliness of it all.
Annette Hillman has a sharp instinct for humor and how to wring the most out of a comic script. She shaped a play that was outrageously funny, without ever sacrificing Orton’s pointed jabs at social mores, corrupt policeman, and a Catholic church that the playwright implies lacks a conscience and a soul.