Push It Real Good: LOOT

Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Co of Boston

Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Co of Boston

Hub Theatre Company of Boston
By Joe Orton
Directed by Daniel Bourque
Dialect coaching by Meredith Stypinski
Fight choreography by Johnnie McQuarley

March 27-April 12, 2015
First Church Boston
66 Marlborough St
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) Playwright Joe Orton was an out gay man at a time when it was not only unfashionable but also highly illegal. Orton died in August 1967. Just one month shy of the passing of Britain’s Sexual Offences Act (amendment), which made acts such as kissing, hand holding, or plain old love between two men legal in the privacy of one’s home (it was still illegal to be homosexual in public. Baby stepping progress is still progress). Orton further pushed the hetero-normative envelope by incorporating his penchant for personal freedom in his writings. Orton’s flagrant disdain for authority and hypocritical social ethics are on proud display in Hub Theatre Co’s production of Loot. Orton’s script is not successful as art but it’s message rings profoundly clear: convention can go hang itself.

Loot is about terrible people with unusual moral codes doing terrible things to each other for the sake of a big payout. Mrs. McLeavy has just been done in and Mr. McLeavy (Thomas Grenon) is already getting conned by the people around him. Faye (Meredith Stypinski), an elder care nurse and serial bride, intends to marry McLeavy whether he’s willing or not. McLeavy’s son, Harold (CJ David), and an undertaker Dennis (Kevin Paquette) have robbed a bank need the currently occupied coffin to hide the money. Inspector Truscott (John Geoffrion) arrives to check the water levels but first he must interrogate everyone for burglary clues. No one is innocent, not even gullible, sad sack McLeavy. In this dry humored, blackest of comedic farce, everyone is in it for themselves regardless of the price.

This production is what one would get if Weekend at Bernie’s was redubbed with a constant loop of the “Benny Hill Theme” as interpreted by Marilyn Manson. It takes lightly some steep issues such as Catholic practice, police corruption, and respect for the deceased. Alas, Hub Theatre Co’s production would have fared better if they had run the “Benny Hill Theme” during the production. The presentation by the cast was too serious for it to work as a farce. The comedic moments in act one were too heavily wrapped in dramatic severity. While the delivery of the text was good, it wasn’t funny. This is not solely the fault of the cast. Orton’s text drips with disdain for its subjects.

Rather the performances are quite good (with one exception from the school of open-mouth acting) if forgettable. The actors have focus, thanks to director Daniel Bourque, and firm character development. What they don’t have is flow from scene to scene. The energy and pacing of the production wavers when the plot’s focus is shifted from actor to actor. This is to say, between scenes and not between lines. These shifts are most noticeable between acts. Act one differs so greatly from Act two that we might as well be viewing two shorter, related but autonomous plays paired for one evening of performance.

There’s an old theatre adage: never work with children or animals. We can add to that short list, inanimate actor substitutes. The dummy used to portray the departed Mrs. McLeavy did not work. We were too distracted by the poor construction of her pillowy prop to appreciate the comedic potential in the staging or dialogue she was involved in. Tragic moments were funny for the wrong reasons. Funny moments weren’t.

There are good reasons to attend Hub’s production of Loot: every performance is “pay what you can;” Joe Orton was an openly gay man in 1960’s Britain and his works aren’t largely performed on this side of the pond; there’s a heaping spoonful of scripted homoeroticism, and supporting fringe theatre is its own reward. This production isn’t perfect but it isn’t half bad either.

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