Entertaining Mr. Sloane | HotCity Theatre

Entertaining-Mr.-Sloane 75It seemed that a lot of the jokes, double entendres, and other bits didn’t land.

Entertaining-Mr.-Sloane 500

Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Joe Orton’s first successful full-length play, was first produced in 1964 and shocked West End audiences with its vulgar situations and crude humor, though critics apparently appreciated it. The public’s reaction probably accounted for at least a portion of its success at the time also, but now, we see more shocking material on network television. That fact may, in turn, account for why I think one of the best casts HotCity has ever assembled, Bill Whitaker’s generally professional direction, and one of the more elaborate sets I’ve seen in the Kranzberg is rather wasted on this dated material.

Kath (Lavonne Byers) escorts a young man named Sloane (Paul Cereghino) into her somewhat run-down but well-appointed “lounge,” as they call their living room. He’s come to see about bed and board, which Kath eagerly offers, and soon we realize that there will be other comforts for the self-proclaimed orphan, as well. Kath herself is a queer duck. She seems dimwitted most of the time, and the one objection I have to her portrayal is that the director lets her get by with too much mugging, even for a farce. The character is broad enough without pulling faces at every opportunity.

Kath lives with Kemp, her “dadda” (William Grivna), a grumpy, shortsighted old man whose former employer, a photographer, was murdered by a tall, good looking young man. You know where this may be headed. Grivna, is as always, impeccable, but he has such a one-note part that he’s not as interesting as usual. Kath and “Mr. Sloane” as she insists on calling the man who is young enough to be her son, begin an affair (a very funny scene at the end of Act I), but Dadda is oblivious to it at first. However, he does think his daughter is a slut because she had a baby “on the wrong side of the blanket,” as her brother Ed (Michael James Reed) puts it. Her child either died or was adopted depending on what story Kath is in the mood to tell. Her brother, a somewhat more reliable narrator of events, refers to adoption. However, he’s not the sharpest tack in the box either, which seems to run in the family. Kemp does eventually wise up to the affair between his daughter and the lodger, though, and tells Ed about it.

The best moments take place between Cereghino and Reed. They have excellent chemistry, and their “affair,” which may or may not have happened, is happening or will happen, creates more sparks than poor hapless Kath ever could do.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the family home is on the edge of a garbage dump—when Ed enters and tries to talk to his estranged father, he casually flicks a cigarette out the window, and his gesture indicates what’s outside. And what’s out there reflects what’s in these morally ambiguous characters. They’re not exactly a close family either. For example, Kemp hasn’t spoken to his son since he tossed him out of the house for “felony behavior” in his room 20 years earlier. He only breaks his silence at this juncture out of fear.

Ed has been a success in the world though, and he is able to give Sloane a job as his chauffeur. He seems to be as much in the young man’s thrall as his sister is. The central mystery is “Who is Mr. Sloane”? To answer that question, you’ll need to see the play, which quite a few people did on opening night. They began by laughing at nearly everything, but as the play went on, the audience was perceptibly quiet much of the time. They came around now and then, but it seemed that a lot of the jokes, double entendres, and other bits didn’t land. Orton does provide a black comic respite from the overly earnest “angry young men” of the 1950s theatre scene who preceded him though. His famous and grisly murder by his lover at 34 robbed the theatre of a unique voice which hadn’t fully matured by this, his first play.

Nothing of what doesn’t work here can be placed directly at the door of this hard-working cast or the high production values provided by C. Otis Sweezey (scenic design), Sean Savoie (lighting design), Becky Fortner (costumes), Meg Brinkley (props), and Zoe Sullivan (a sound prodigy, at least as far as period music goes). Whoever built the set deserves credit too. It’s a good looking show, and in the end, I was entertained, but maybe not quite as much as the enigmatic young Mr. Sloane. | Andrea Braun

Entertaining Mr. Sloane runs through Sept. 21 at HotCity Theatre in the Kranzberg Performing Arts Black Box in Grand Center. You may contact hotcitytheatre.org.

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