The Good, the Bad, and the Rugby
So lace up your cleats, pull up your jockstrap and turn on your thinking cap because you’re liable to get tossed about.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
Nothing gets the antediluvian juices surging through the veins of a cross-section of British subjects like a good rugby scrum. Nobody knows for sure what happens inside such a mass of misplaced testosterone, but one thing is certain: it isn’t pretty. Nor is “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” Joe Orton’s story of a decidedly dysfunctional British family in the turbulent 1960s, a time when protests were as common as a UK commoner and Old World morality was as tattered as the Union Jack.
Directed by Ed Shea and running through May 31 at 2nd Story Theatre, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” is not a play to trifle with, but it does, as the title implies, provide a mighty entertaining evening of theater. Orton’s acidic humor finds a heartless home in dark comedy and thrives there in the form of wicked repartee and back-biting banter. The verbal fireworks are delivered flawlessly through the characters of Kath (Rae Mancini), her brother Ed (John Michael Richardson), their father Kemp (Tom Roberts) and psychopathic tenant Mr. Sloane (Cory Crew).
Kath and Ed’s sibling relationship has been problematic ever since Kath seduced and was impregnated by Ed’s boy toy nearly two decades earlier. To save face for the family, protect his own career, or punish Kath, Ed put the kid up for adoption, and the kid has not been heard from since.
Kemp also has a somewhat strained relationship with his son; he caught Ed in a compromising (sexual) position early on and has not spoken to him for 20 very odd years, this in spite of being in frequent contact with Ed at Kath’s home where Kemp resides under her care and less than watchful eyes. Kemp is borderline functional and is still somewhat traumatized by witnessing the murder of his boss in a crime that remains unsolved.
Had Kemp been acquainted with Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple the whole affair might have ended much more satisfactorily for him; however, with a fading recollection of the events surrounding the murder, Kemp is confused but not dazzled by the arrival of the mysterious stranger. Kath takes Sloane in not because she needs the money, but rather because she craves some male companionship, aside from that of her failing father and gay brother.
Always at the ready in digs designed by Ron Cesario, Mancini’s portrayal of Rae as a desperate, sex-starved woman just past her prime is a genuine treat of theatrical gymnastics. She morphs from wanton seductress to pathetic waif in the blink of an eye. Her body language is as seductive as her bedroom eyes, gleaming under Steve McLellan’s subtle use of lighting to accentuate her every mood. As always, Trevor Elliott’s set is superlative, providing an idyllic scene for love and loss.
Crew’s performance as the high-strung Mr. Sloane is no less impressive than that of Mancini; he blends a forceful sexuality with an irresistible innocence to get what he wants when he wants it. His banter with Richardson in the role of Ed is reminiscent of scenes penned by Oscar Wilde, and his running conflict with Kemp is chilling. Roberts does a beautiful job with Kemp, balancing his contempt for Mr. Sloane with a good measure of fear for the unwelcome intruder.
Orton’s play keeps you pretty much on the edge of your seat because you really don’t know what is going to happen — not only in the end, but in the next moment of the play. This is the essence of a good story, and Orton certainly knows how to tell a good story.
In the mid-’60s, Orton was the toast of London’s West End, adored by the very people he was ridiculing in his plays. If it is true that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” then the same can be said for theater. And “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
2nd Story’s scorching production of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” opens doors and closes windows as it provides a glimpse into the heart of the turbulent human psyche. The play is a rousing good show and at the same time as rough as a rugby scrum; so lace up your cleats, pull up your jockstrap and turn on your thinking cap because you’re liable to get tossed about in the untamed wilderness of Joe Orton’s wacky world.