A body, a coffin, loot from a bank robbery-these are the ingredients Joe Orton uses in his satire of British middle-class society. And in this season-opening production of Loot at North Carolina Stage Company, Orton's mischievous wit shines through. His send-ups of middle-class cultural mores shocked and delighted audiences. His all-too-brief career (1963-1967) ended when he was brutally murdered by his long-time companion.
Through humor, Orton seduced audiences of the 1960s into laughing at the unthinkable: the dead mother stripped naked and folded upside-down into a wardrobe; one of her false eyes rolling around the floor; the son playing her false teeth like castanets; the nurse parading around in her dead patient's clothing. And the humor is underscored by the bereaved husband when he asks, after hearing that the robbers entered the bank through a funeral parlor, whether any bodies were "outraged." Assured they were not, he notes with relief that "there are some things that deter even criminals."
The husband, McLeavy, is the moral center of an amoral world. He is a man playing by the rules who is surrounded by people-his son, Hal; Hal's friend and accomplice in the robbery, Dennis; Nurse Fay; Inspector Truscott -who do not. Kermit Brown captures perfectly the quiet dignity and moral authority of a man who goes from self-assuredness to bewilderment to sacrificial victim.
Charles McIver dominates the stage as the bombastic Inspector Truscott-a man who lies, bullies, and resorts to unprovoked physical violence. One priceless moment is his parody of Sherlock Holmes. Orton's caricature of this authority figure has a surprising, and frightening, relevance in today's society. Claiming he is from the Water Board, Truscott asserts the right to invade the McLeavy household, to abuse the occupants, lie to them, and refuse to answer their questions by virtue of his position. He is part storm trooper and part buffoon. As played by Mr. McIver, he is too much the storm trooper. His performance is at such a high level of hostility that when he does resort to physical violence it comes as no surprise.
Ann Thibault is deliciously sexy and duplicitous as Nurse Fay. Newcomer Steven Campanella is outstanding as Hal's friend, Dennis. Matthew Detmer gave a credible performance as the selfish and slimy Hal. The set by Ron Bowen provides an appropriately dreary, middle-class respectability to the production.
Director Rob Bashford gives Orton's play a worthy production. The finely tuned pacing of the humor had the audience laughing throughout, particularly the antics with the body, which managed to be hilarious and tasteful. All in all, Mr. Bashford has given his audience a fun evening.