BRITISH HUMOR TAKES A BACK SEAT
EXTENDED THROUGH JULY 5, 2009
“SUBTLETY OF DRAMA IS LOST ON THE MAD”
Late in the second act of What the Butler Saw, a totally mad character pontificates, “Subtlety of drama is lost on the mad.” English humor in madcap farce relies not only on physical activity but also on intricate word play including the nuance of language. Joe Orton displays his genius in this genre as he skewers social mores/ sexuality, psychiatry and government ineptitude with sharp dialog, double entendres and over-the-top non-stop action. Although there are many moments of outright hilarity, this Marin Theatre Company revival of Orton’s 1969, and last, play is not fully satisfying, missing the subtlety/nuances built into the brilliant dialog.
It all begins in the
The farce swings into action on Eric Flatmo’s brilliant set with the obligatory four doors needed for rapid entrance and exits with ample room for the characters to race across stage. Incriminating articles are hidden and found by the wrong person. If the characters are not hiding, they are disguising themselves by cross-dressing leading to misunderstandings as the plot becomes more convoluted. Orton does not rely on slapstick and physical action for humor. His words alone are devilish. An example Dr. Prenice to his wife, “You were born with your legs apart. They will send you grave in a Y-shaped coffin.” He touches on transvestism, nymphomania, promiscuity, rape, incest and Winston Churchill's penis. The subjects are treated rapidly and without rancor eliciting satirical humor and not approbation. Psychiatry takes the biggest hit in the character of the maniacal Dr. Rance who ascertains that the patients of this particular “insane asylum” provide enough case studies to publish a financially successful book. Mrs. Prentice: “The purpose of my husband's clinic isn't to cure, but to liberate and exploit madness.” Rance: “In this case he appears to succeed only too well.”
Amy Glazer’s rapid-fire direction (the play runs under 2hours with a 15 minute intermission) allows the action to detract from the cutting humor of the dialog which at times is delivered with unintelligible swiftness compounded by the inconsistent use of British accents. It may be opening night jitters that caused embarrassing lapses and missed cues in two of the characters. Stacy Ross is a joy to observe in her role of nymphomaniac with a penchant for gin that becomes wilder as the evening progresses. Andy Murray tears into the difficult role of Dr. Rance with volume lacking variation needed for comedic timing. Attractive newcomer Cat Walleck, as the much abused and normal Geraldine certified as insane, displays a talent that should keep her in an active career. Rowan Brooks generates hearty laughs with his demeanor that changes with the switch from randy Bellboy to erstwhile secretary in a dress. Kevin Rolston’s mobile face adds humor/depth to his role as the deus ex machina of Sergeant Match.
Kedar K. Adour, MD