When Joe Orton’s Loot opened in Cambridge, England in 1965 it created such a scandal that the Lord Chamberlain, England’s official theatre “censor” until 1968, ordered revisions and deletions before it could run on London’s West End. It’s running now at the Novato Theater Company through February 10.
Orton’s look at the savage hypocrisy beneath Britain’s outward aura of propriety may have been shocking for its time, but nowadays it seems quaint to suggest that corruption and brutality might run rampant in a police force or that the pious may not act as such behind closed doors, or that two men may be engaged in a sexual relationship.
“Friends” Hal (James Gregory) and Dennis (Peter Malmquist) have knocked off the bank next door to the funeral home where Dennis is employed. Seeking a place to hide the loot, they return to Hal’s home where his late mother lies in state under the watchful eyes of Hal’s father Mr. McLeavy (Keith Jefferds) and her scheming attending nurse Fay (Haley Bertelsen). Realizing that a coffin makes a great hiding place, Mrs. McLeavy is soon relocated to an armoire while the loot is stashed in her place.
Things get complicated with the arrival of Inspector Truscott (Johnny DeBernard), ostensibly of the Water Board but, in reality, a less-than-savory police inspector hot on the trail of the bank robbers and maybe a ‘black widow’ killer.
Trevor Scott Floyd’s lackluster direction of Orton’s script gives it the look and feel of a lesser Monty Python skit without the necessary comedic pacing. The show, which ran only one hour and fifty minutes (with intermission) felt much longer, though having the actors speed it up might have made the often-unintelligible dialogue even less intelligible. While Johnny DeBernard certainly has the right idea about pacing, even he tripped over his dialogue in spots.
Actor Keith Jeffords has the look and vocal intonations of British satirist/comic actor Peter Cook, which lends some authenticity to the production, but overall the performances are pretty drab.
Loot is a distinctly British play that, while it hits on issues that could be considered contemporary, seems awfully dated. That it never hits the heights of absurdity and lunacy required of a successful farce is a double-whammy.
’Loot’ runs Friday–Sunday through Feb. 10 at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Ste. C, Novato. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $21–$27. 415.883.4498. novatotheatercompany.org.
Photos by Fred Denau
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.