A Darkly Funny “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” at 2nd Story Theatre
Part psychological thriller, part ferocious family drama, yet often laugh-out loud funny.by Marilyn A. Busch, Motif
Its ironic that 2nd Story Theatre chose Mother’s Day weekend, of all holidays, as their press opening night for Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane, a darkly comic puzzle-box of a familial drama that has more than its share of “Mommy” issues. Part psychological thriller, part ferocious family drama, yet often laugh-out loud funny, Orton’s rarely produced play almost defies you to fit its many personalities into just one genre of dramatic work. The theatre’s press materials sum up the show’s plot succinctly, “A blowsy landlady and her sexually repressed brother rent Mr. Sloane a room and proceed to “entertain” him by seducing the seemingly hapless young man.” Add to the mix their elderly father – who is certain that he recognizes the young man as a murderer – and things start to take on a more grotesque hue.
The show opens with young Mr. Sloane agreeing to rent a room from Kath, played by Rae Mancini as a middle-aged, toothless Lolita, a filter-less chatterbox who has taken a keen – and very sexual – interest in her attractive new lodger. While “Mister” Sloane is all of 17 years old, he is cunning and manipulative, soon peppering the conversation with Kath with intimate questions about her personal life and the family. She is quick to divulge many a dark secret, including an illegitimate child she was forced to give away and how she lost her first love, the baby’s father.
Mancini is a chameleon of an actress and in Kath she has created a gravely voiced, crude force of nature made up of equal parts Shelley Winters at her sexiest and Angela Lansbury at her most conniving. As written by Orton, the role demands equal parts pathos and vaudeville and Mancini delivers on both counts.
No sooner does Kath tell of her abandoned baby 17 years prior, then Sloane confesses he is an orphan and in need of a mother figure. As played by handsome newcomer, Cory Crew, Mr. Sloane is effortlessly charming as he quickly bends his personal narrative into whatever the listener wants to hear. Crews brings a smooth naturalness to what really is a tricky role – coolly amiable at the outset, the audience is allowed to catch a smile held a bit too long – or a glimmer in his eyes that could be guilt – and eventually fear.
This fear comes from the threat of Kath’s father Kemp, (“The Dada” as she is fond of referring to him) who, despite poor health, threatens to turn in the young man for a murder committed years ago. Tom Roberts’ Kemp is a pinched, sour faced curmudgeon who admits to not speaking to his son Ed for 20 years after catching him “committing some kind of felony in the bedroom” as a teen.
Enter Ed, the flamboyant and successful middle aged son with a talent for witty repartee and a taste for – you guessed it – our Mr. Sloane. John Michael Richardson creates a larger than life character in Ed, delivering his lines with a smooth southern drawl and the brilliant comic timing of Rosalind Russell at her best. Watching Sloane and Eddie size each other up through seemingly innocent, but razor sharp lines of questioning was fascinating. Every query a feint, every answer a parry, the layered conversation soon becomes amusingly heavy with innuendo.
As the play progresses and Orton draws his characters in broader and broader strokes, director Ed Shea deftly keeps the play grounded in reality. Brother and sister are soon squabbling over rights to the young man and Kath secures her territory by not only moving Sloane into her home, but bedding him – while also still playing the “Mother” role. (It is a strange juxtaposition that comes to an even stranger climax when she cries out “Momma!” in the throes of ecstasy at the close Act One.)
Act Two opens and we see Eddie has “taken in” Sloane as well – hiring him as his chauffeur, complete with a black leather uniform straight from the Schutzstaffel. It is here where Crews starts to explore the darker side of Mister Sloane. Seemingly in the catbird seat, Sloane reigns over the household and even goes in for an occasional beat down of the old man, ostensibly to keep him from reporting Sloane’s murderous past.
To detail anything further would be a disservice to the many twists and turns of this darkly funny and very entertaining production. Kudos to the set designer Trevor Elliott for creating Kath’s decidedly sad and lonely lodgings and the colorfully spot on 60s costumes from designer Ron Cesario.