Power plays never go out of style.By Kathie Raleigh
With a floozy female, a repressed homosexual and an amoral opportunist as the three main characters, you might think Joe Orton’s play, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” which debuted in 1964, could be an examination of mores that changed from the restrained 1950s to the sexually revolutionary 1960s.
While those 50-year-old attitudes surface, I see the production now at 2nd Story Theatre as being about power, and how people motivated only by self-interest use their power to manipulate one another. It’s a smart shift that moves the play from the ’60s to a more timeless place relevant to contemporary concerns.
Add four fine actors and a crisp, 85-minute performance and you have a theater experience that raises questions about the point of the story — and leaves it up to you and me to draw our own conclusions.
The story begins as Kath welcomes the title character into her home as a lodger. It doesn’t take long to see that her interest in the handsome, young man is less financial than sexual; she starts throwing herself at him right after “hello.”
Kath’s brother, Ed, arrives to put the kibosh on taking in a lodger until he gets a look at Sloane, and his own sexual interest is piqued. Brother and sister become rivals.
Sloane plays along until Kath’s irascible father, Kemp – in a moment played perfectly by Tom Roberts — recognizes Sloane from an unsolved murder.
As the story evolves, the question becomes who is manipulating whom. Sloane plays both Kath and Ed to get what he wants, but just how precarious that situation is becomes clear as the siblings’ history is revealed, including an out-of-wedlock birth to Kath and her brother’s way of having to be the one in charge, the one to make all the decisions. Then, of course, there is the question of what Kemp knows and what he’ll do about it.
It’s hard to get over the fact that none of these characters is likeable, except perhaps Kemp, only because of Roberts’ very human portrayal of the obstinate old man. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the work of two 2nd Story veterans, Rae Mancini as Kath, eliciting everything from sympathy to disgust, and John Michael Richardson as Ed, the other half of the emotionally and morally truncated siblings. In an understated performance as Mr. Sloane, a well-muscled Cory Crew slides convincingly from charming to calculating and violent.
These lives don’t make a pretty picture, and with the passage of time, some of the issues have lost their edge. But power plays never go out of style, and that keeps “Mr. Sloane” entertaining.