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Tuesday, 10 September 2013 09:00

'Entertaining Mr. Sloane': Lord help the Mr. who comes between me and my sister!

Written by Steve Callahan
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Mr. Sloane is a gorgeous young thing and everybody wants him.  Mr. Sloane hasn't had a single scruple for ever-so-long.  Mr. Sloane's polite demeanor is marbled with streaks of blazing viciousness.  Mr. Sloane is quite a piece of work.

You can meet him in Hot City's slick new production of Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" at the Kranzberg.

The play is not exactly a black comedy;  it's more of a black sex-farce.  (To be truer, it's a sex satire, as we'll see later.)  At times it almost seems to be parodying Harold Pinter.  A middle-aged woman, Kath, played by Lavonne Byers, lives with her nearly-blind old father on the edge of a dump in the only completed unit of a failed housing project.  Kath is more than a little common.  One day she brings a young man home—Mr. Sloane—whom she proposes to take as a lodger.  Her father is suspicious of this intruder, but Kath is quite persistent.  It soon becomes clear that she has more than lodging in mind as she launches a seduction that is anything but subtle (though she decorates it with occasional moments of girlish coyness).  Now Sloane is some twenty years her junior and Kath voices many sentiments about "being a mother to him."  (He is an orphan, after all.)  But we're not far into Act One before she has the pants off him—for medical purposes only, of course.

Well, Kath's big brother, Ed, arrives and he strongly opposes her taking a lodger.  But after a few minutes interview with the tempting Mr. Sloane Ed not only welcomes him, but offers him a job as his chauffeur.

The entire cast does splendid work in this vinegar-chiffon-pie of a play.  Paul Cereghino, as Sloane, is exactly the right beautiful type for this erotic icon.  And he makes Sloane's egoistic mendacity so comfortably believable—this man would rather lie than tell the truth—even if he didn't have lots to hide.  Lavonne Byers fills Kath with enthusiastic comic lust.  How shameless!  What a pro!  Michael James Reed is smooth and powerful as the brother, Ed.  He beautifully captures Ed's Pinterish penchant for slightly cryptic bombastic verbal abuse.  But my especial favorite of the evening is Bill Grivna as old Kemp, the father.  He's so utterly true in this role—and nicely comic—and his speech seems born to the accent. 

Kemp, despite his poor vision, is a born witness;  some years ago he witnessed his son, Ed, "committing a felony in the bedroom" and hasn't spoken to him since.  Later he witnessed a killing;  (Oh, if his sight were better he might recognize the killer!)  It is ill luck for Kemp to have seen these things.

At the start of the play Sloane seems able to get anything he wants from Kath or Ed, both of whom are eager for his attentions.   But events dictate a shift of power.  In the end he is helplessly in their control and must accede to their every wish.  His future looks bleak and tawdry.

Director Bill Whitaker keeps the comedy rolling at a brisk pace, and it's much fun. 

But I missed the darknesses that should dress this play—and the social and moral shabbiness that should virtually drip from these characters.  Now the play is almost fifty years old, and what was sexually shocking in 1964 is certainly less so now.  Playwright Joe Orton was flamingly "out" back then, but homosexuality was still, nominally, a crime and the word "gay" still meant "happy".   Back then "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" was titillating—even, "Wow!" shocking.  Less so now.

But its structure as a satire still works.  Sloane, like Tartuffe, callously uses people.  He employs his youth and beauty to get what he wants and lashes out with reckless violence to protect it.  He is so utterly immoral as to make Dorian Gray look like a very Victorian!   (Well, of course Gray was a Victorian, but you know what I mean.)  And Sloane gets his come-uppance.

But it could wrench us more.  Scenic designer Otis Sweezey presents a very wide, spacious set, that looks almost affluent.  It's beautifully executed, but it's wrong for this play, which wants a claustrophobic, tacky home with shabby overstuffed furniture, not attractively carved wood.  And Kath, too, should be distinctly unattractive so that we cringe when Sloane succumbs to her pawing.  (Unattractive is just difficult for Lavonne Byers;  even blackened teeth don't quite achieve it.)  We could use a little more of Ed's ambiguous menace.   Our stomachs should sink as we realize the fate that faces Sloane at the end.

"Entertaining Mr. Sloane" continues at the Kranzberg through September 21.  It's a fine production by Hot City.

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