Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Julie James and Danny Scheie: frenzied plots
Orton's crazed spirit lives in JTC's hilarious 'What the Butler Saw'

Spoiler alert: there is no butler in What the Butler Saw. But there's plenty to see and enjoy in Joe Orton's scabrously funny 1967 comedy as performed by the Jewel Theatre Company. It's a slamming-door farce in which the set's four doors repeatedly slam, identities are mistaken, switched, disguised and deconstructed, thwarted sexuality drives the plot, and anarchy runs riot over all. 

In other words, business as usual for Orton, the working-class Brit whose subversively witty comedies blazed across the London theatre scene during his brief mid-1960s career.

Yes, this production references the '60s, from the British Invasion soundtrack that greets audiences on the way to their seats, to B. Modern's mod-influenced costumes. But Orton's comic style is timeless; his tweaking of authority and cheeky disdain for hallowed traditions and bourgeois propriety would be equally at home on a 16th-Century Commedia dell'arte stage or last night's cable TV comedy series. And the excellent JTC team mines the material for every possible laugh.
Josh Saleh, Mike Ryan, Audrey Rumsby: gender-switched

This production continues JTC's fertile association with Shakespeare Santa Cruz alumni. Director Art Manke (whose credits include the wonderful The Three Musketeers) stages the piece with verve and clarity. 

Mike Ryan notches up another entertaining performance as the head of a tony private psychiatric clinic, whose aborted attempt to seduce his dewy new secretary, and his increasingly frazzled attempts to conceal this fact from his virago wife (expertly played by Julie James), lead to mayhem in Orton's frisky plot. 

Ryan and Saleh: anarchy vs. propriety
 Also on board is the hilarious Danny Scheie as another shrink, visiting the clinic on behalf of the British government. As the principal authority figure, it's his function to misinterpret evidence, misconstrue motives, and misdiagnose everyone else as a raving lunatic—and Scheie wrings the most out of every syllable of caustic observation and gleeful epiphany.

Audrey Rumsby, as the secretary, and Josh Saleh as a bellhop roped into the action are delightful as the young innocents caught up in the crazed lies and schemes of their elders; they are the ones most often stripped down to their skivvies and forced to switch clothes and genders to suit the others' frenzied plotting.

The message here is that no amount of personal aplomb or official prestige can save you from random acts of lunacy in the Orton universe. (Read more)

(The JTC production of What the Butler Saw plays through May 25 at Center Stage in Sant Cruz. Visit the JTC website for ticket info.)

Photos by Steve DiBartolomeo, WestsideStudio Image.

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