CORPSE AND ROBBERS

The best play of 1966 has arrived in Phoenix, and even 29 years later, it is still the most outrageous comedy of the season. It's also one of the funniest.

The play is Joe Orton's Loot, in a production by Tres Repertory Theatre in Park Central Mall. Now half-deserted, this skeleton of a commercial enterprise provides an appropriate locale for Orton's scathing examination of our greed.

Orton was the bad boy of the British theatre, an avowed homosexual whose iconoclastic comedies turned the establishment on its ear. Three of his plays have become classics of satire: Entertaining Mr. Sloane, What the Butler Saw and his masterpiece, Loot.

Orton's brilliant career was cut short when he was brutally murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. With an irony Orton would have loved, Halliwell allegedly beat him to death with his "Best Play" trophy. This misbegotten love story was the subject of Stephen Frears' unsavory film Prick Up Your Ears, which achieved critical notoriety in 1987.

Hints of sadism can be seen in all of Orton's work, and the pleasure police detective Truscott takes in kicking Hal around in Loot reveals a fascination with violence. Orton's plays also contain strong undertones of sexual perversions. In fact, his plays are a cornucopia of depravity, lechery, dishonesty and blasphemy. But the primary focus of Loot is on other deadly sins--greed, envy and corruption. Dominating the stage is the open coffin of the late Mrs. McLeavy, lying in final repose in the parlor of her London home. Her bereaved husband is offered comfort by her ultimate caretaker, Fay. Still dressed in her nurse's uniform, Fay makes subtle innuendoes about her desire to comfort McLeavy on a more permanent basis and in a more intimate fashion.

The McLeavys' son Hal, a huge lummox with an unkempt beard and a dangling earring, keeps the key to a locked closet, much to Fay's irritation, because she is in the process of acquiring all her mistress's clothes and wants the contents of this closet, as well.

Hal is planning to leave England with a scurrilous American chum, Dennis, who awaits the family's final farewell to drive the corpse to the cemetery in a hearse parked below. Dennis displays lecherous desire for Fay, who scorns him, although she had been carrying on a sexual liaison with him. Dennis finds no comfort in Hal's reassurance that Fay doesn't know what she's missing: "But she does! That's what's so humiliating."

A newspaper story reports the successful heist at an important bank, in which robbers made off with an enormous quantity of money. Before long, our suspicions are confirmed: The locked closet contains bags and bags of money that bumbling bank robbers Dennis and Hal have stashed until they can bury the money with the late Mrs. McLeavy. Unfortunately, there isn't room for both money and body, so Mrs. McLeavy must be unceremoniously evicted and stored in the closet while her coffin is filled with loot.

Truscott arrives, claiming he is an inspector from the water department, a deceit that fools no one. His self-important obtuseness is familiar from British detective stories as the poor corpse is stripped, wrapped and moved about with bracing indifference by her survivors.

Orton insisted that the play must be presented with a total commitment to naturalism. Any hint of camp sensibility ruins it, as was evidenced by the failure of the original production, directed in a broadly comic style. Director Tom Noga has provided just the sort of realism Orton demanded, and the felicitous result is a mounting absurdity in which both we and the actors totally believe. As the corpse, Erin Hughes gives easily the deadest performance of the year, which in this case is the highest compliment possible. Don Erikson is believable as her bereaved husband, perhaps the most ordinary character in this crass menagerie. Fay is played with eye-fluttering menace by Paula Glitsos. McLeavy's son Hal, whose compulsive truthfulness makes the life of a criminal a poor choice of employment, is embodied by the great slouching hulk Tony Stirpe, who is so engaging a bank robber one can only hope for his success. Mathew Kutt makes Hal's randy mate Dennis so horny, venal and stupid that he is actually attractive, but the piäce de rāsistance of the evening is detective Truscott, played with consummate obtuseness by director/designer Tom Noga. Accompanied by the dour-faced Don Klomp, these sleuths make as many mistakes as a dozen Keystone Kops. They are so incompetent, they make the LAPD look good.

A simple and elegant set conveys the right tone for the play. Tres Repertory Theatre proves Peter Brooks' exhortations that all a company really needs is an empty stage and imagination.

Don't miss this scintillating evening of unscrupulous mayhem!--

 
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