Plays

One of the things I do a lot of in my spare time is act in plays. We have quite a few acting or repertory companies locally here in Colorado Springs. The big five (if I may call them that) are Smokebrush, Theatreworks, the Fine Arts Center Repertory Company, PPCC Masquers, and Star Bar Players. I have acted for them all except PPCC (which is too far to travel for rehearsals - it's at the south side of town, I live at the north side), with varying degrees of success. There are also a few companies, not quite so large, some of them not having a permanent place of residence.

I'm currently playing the part of Dr Prentice in What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton for The Star Bar Players. Also starring are Paul Mathewson as Dr Rance, Krysia Kubiak as Mrs Prentice, Michael Tulloss as Sergeant Match, Amber Richman as Geraldine Barclay and Joshua Bate as Nicholas Beckett. The director is Mark Hennessey. Production dates: February 26 & 27, 1998, March 5, 6, 7, 12, & 13.

The play is a brilliant farce by a young British playwright from the Sixties, tragically murdered by his lover just as he was getting into his stride. What The Butler Saw is his best play, without question. The plot is much too difficult to describe in a small number of words; needless to say it involves scantily clad people, sexual situations, mistaken identities and, to crown it all, part of a statue of Sir Winston Churchill.

The first review is in from The Independent; as usual, a very perceptive one from David Sckolnik.

Bravo Butler!

Star Bar captures twisted essence of Orton in new production

What the Butler Saw, a sexually-charged farce by the English playwright Joe Orton, is as funny as it is disturbing to conventional sensibilities, and the current Star Bar Players production really shows what that group can do with challenging material.

Orton, on the verge of major recognition when he was beaten to death in 1967 in England, did not live to see his final effort, What the Butler Saw, produced. The play is built with his signature style, displaying the confusion, perversion and desperation surrounding human sexuality, and relying on the foolishness of human behavior for the lion’s share of its comic impact. On one hand, Butler is one of those silly theatrical fluff pieces which depend upon wacky situations for their fuel. But Orton’s agenda assures a more confrontational experience.

The strong hand of Mark Hennessy, making his local directorial debut, can be felt throughout the Star Bar production. He has carefully guided his cast through the rich and sometimes verbose dialogue to performances that generally catch the twisted folly of it all. Crackerjack timing is of the essence, and Hennessy’s players
hit the mark both in their line delivery and their physical gyrations.

Leading the way is Julian Bucknall as Dr. Prentice, the resident psychiatrist in the mental institution in which Butler is set. Bucknall gives a precious performance – filled with intelligence, boundless nervous energy and slapstick – proving himself an ideal interpreter of Orton’s complicated comedy.

No less impressive is Paul Mathewson’s Dr. Rance, a bravura reading of a two-dimensional government official. Mathewson is relentless in his formal, almost operatic delivery of the dialogue, a perfect foil to the naughty behavior of the other characters.

And Joshua Bates’ mere physical presence extracts laughter from the audience. The seriousness with which he interprets the role of Nicholas Beckett, a sexually-depraved bellboy makes for great comic relationships with his fellow cast members. He looks so fine in that blue dress! And when the law arrives in the person of Sgt. Match, Michael Tulloss’ calm and measured reading only gives broader space to his animated collaborators. (The blue dress, however, is not as flattering on him.)

Both women, Krysia Kubiak as Mrs. Prentice and Amber Richman as the innocent secretary Geraldine Barclay, suffered from awkward starts the night I saw the play. Richman seemed contrived during her opening seduction scene with Bucknall but reveled in the situational ramifications as her character developed. Kubiak is miscast and misses much of the comedic bite of her angry, promiscuous character. But the unfolding of the bizarre events of the play serves to gradually strengthen her presence by show’s end.

David Sckolnik
(c) The Independent, 1999

The next review is in from The Gazette. Yikes, Mark Arnest is complaining about plot, etc; things that would pass muster in a Shakespeare play (heck, practically all Shakespeare's comedies depend on people being mistaken for others). but not apparently in this one. Also, the whole point of farces is that any normal person found in such a situation would yell "Stop! This is silly!", but the characters in the farce do not; it's part of the humour, surely? Anyway, here's the review.

'Butler' proves farce shouldn't be played straight

"What the Butler Saw," a farce by Joe Orton being produced by Star Bar Players, is a play for those who take their stupidity straight.

There are wonderful lines (better said out loud than repeated in print), plenty of silliness, and lots of dressing and undressing - both cross and otherwise - in this spirited production. With the plethora of characters parading around in their underwear, Orton blurs the line between viewers and voyeurs.

But be forewarned: This is high camp, and the casualness with which Orton treats such details as plot and characterization can be more irritating than amusing.

Orton weaves a dense web of missing people, both imaginary and real, and madness, both imaginary and real. The play begins with Dr. Prentice, who runs a private clinic for the insane, attempting to seduce his secretary, Geraldine. Mrs. Prentice arrives, and the Prentices' cobra-and-mongoose relationship becomes clear.

Then Nicholas, a bellhop from the Station Hotel who dallied with - and photographed - Mrs. Prentice, shows up to blackmail her; Dr. Rance, a government psychiatrist, appears on a surprise inspection and quickly becomes suspicious; and a policeman, Sergeant Match, arrives to arrest Geraldine for possession of a particular piece from a statue of Winston Churchill.

After that it's a blur. Director Mark Hennessy and the cast have deftly - well, as deftly as is appropriate - managed the extraordinarily numerous entrances and exits, and the production is tight, if not tight enough for this leaky script.

But the production seems misconceived in one respect - namely, that most of the cast members attempt to act in a somewhat realistic manner. The problem is, when characters seem remotely like people, then you expect them to behave remotely like people - and these characters are constantly behaving in ways that render their membership in homo sapiens suspect. When Nicholas puts on Mrs. Prentice's dress, she fails to recognize either him - or her dress. When Dr. Prentice asks the sergeant to take off his clothes, the officer immediately obliges, even though he believes Prentice is a sexual pervert.

Perhaps this is why Paul Mathewson's Dr. Rance, who enters behaving like something you might see after drinking too much absinthe, is far and away the most successful character here. To be sure, Rance gets the lion's share of the best lines, but Mathewson's palpable insanity renders everything he does credible, while all-too-visible strings connect the other characters to the playwright's improbable machinations.

If no one else reaches Mathewson's level, the tremendous energy they expend is hardly wasted. Julian Bucknall plays Dr. Prentice with the right combination of horniness and irritation. Amber Richman is charming as Geraldine, a fresh young woman encountering her first truly impossible situation, while Krysia Kubiak exudes appropriate amorality as Mrs. Prentice. Joshua Bate is suitably ridiculous as Nicholas, and Michael Tulloss is both authoritative and genial as Sergeant Match.

The play must have been shocking in 1969, and it's still adult stuff, with its casual treatment of seduction, rape, incest and homosexuality. But much of it now seems labored, though the send-up of psychiatry is still funny, as every piece of misinformation starts Dr. Rance expounding on ever-more-preposterous theories.

Playwright Orton set out to become notorious, and eventually succeeded all too well when, at 34, he was brutally murdered by his lover. In addition to the several plays he wrote, he's spawned a cottage industry that includes at least two plays and a movie, "Prick Up Your Ears," about his life.

But judging from this play, Orton was very much a work in progress. The brilliant language in "What the Butler Saw" is compromised by laziness in plotting and characterization. And he occasionally prizes shock value over comic value, as in the case of the show's final gag. Without giving it away, the word "anticlimax" seems especially appropriate here.

Mark Arnest
(c) The Gazette, 1999

Previous r´┐Żles include (in reverse order):

bulletBill, Al and Sir David Attenborough in All in the Timing by David Ives for Theatreworks at the Dwire Theater, September/October 1998.
bulletLewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Patti Smithsonian, for Smokebrush. July 1998.
bulletCradeau in No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre for Upstart Performing Ensemble at Smokebrush, May 1998.
bulletRoss in Macbeth by William Shakespeare for Smokebrush. February 1998.
bulletThe Reverend Samuel Parris in The Crucible by Arthur Miller for Theatreworks at the Dwire Theater. October 1997.
bulletMr. Toad in Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme, adapted by Ziggy Wagrowski, for Smokebrush. May 1997.
bulletRichard The Lionheart in The Lion in Winter for Upstart Performing Ensemble at the Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs. March 1997.
bulletKulygin in Three Sisters by Anton Chekov for Smokebrush. November 1996.
bulletRobert in Don't Dress For Dinner for Little London Productions (who are no more, alas) at the Grand Opry. September/October 1996.
bulletThe Duke of Milan in Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare for Theatreworks on the lawns at UCCS, alfresco (and sometimes bloody fresco too!). August 1996.
bulletJohn Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick for Star Bar Players at The Lon Chaney Theater. April/May 1996.
bulletMarley's Ghost and Narrator in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Murray Ross, for Theatreworks at the Dwire Theater. December 1995.
bulletAlex in The Nerd by Larry Shue for Star Bar Players at The Lon Chaney Theater. October/November 1995.
bulletDex in I Take This Man by Jack Sharkey for Little London Productions at The Clubhouse. June/July 1995.
bulletJoseph II, The Emperor of Austria, in Amadeus by Peter Shaffer for the Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company at The Fine Arts Center. February/March 1995.
bulletTerrance O'Keefe in Breaking Legs by Tom Dulack for Star Bar Players at The Lon Chaney Theater. January 1995.
bulletKen de la Maize in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 by John Bishop for About Town Dinner Theatre at the Broadmoor Hotel. October/November 1994.
bulletBoyet in Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare for Theatreworks at Shokebrush Theater. August 1994.
bulletAnton Schill in The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt for Theatreworks at the Dwire Theater. April/May 1994.
bulletAlgernon in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde for Star Bar Players at The Lon Chaney Theater. January 1994.
bulletBefore this I appeared in a series of productions in London, both for the Dulwich Players and for the Environment Players. However I do not have the programmes here in the US to be able list the roles.
 

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Page last updated: Thursday April 09, 1998 16:45:50