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Loot at Little Lake

The less Orton-like the production became, the more the audience loved it

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Little Lake Theatre Co. steps out on a theatrical limb with its production of Joe Orton’s Loot. It’s billed as a farce, but most audiences, when they hear that word, imagine a slamming-door-filled set on which a married man juggles a couple of mistresses.

That’s not what Loot is about.

Orton’s 1964 black comedy is about two sexually fluid and voracious young men, Hal and Dennis, who rob a bank and hide the money in the coffin of Hal’s recently deceased mother. Hal’s widowed father, meanwhile, is being vamped by his dead wife’s nurse, Fay, a woman with seven deceased husbands and looking to add another. Bursting into the house is a detective so abusive he’d make a Baltimore cop blush. Along the way, a corpse is defiled, middle-class notions of sex and morality are lampooned, and the Catholic Church comes under repeated satiric attack.

Who couldn’t love it?

The Little Lake audience, that’s who … at least at the beginning. Orton was as mannered a playwright as they come. Described as “Oscar Wilde of the welfare state,” his dialogue is tightly woven and epigrammatically overloaded, difficult for contemporary audiences to take in. Add the Catholic-bashing, and the laughs weren’t exactly flowing on opening night.

Which might explain Art DeConciliis’ direction: He’s overseen some broad, broad playing, more suited to a cartoony Ray Cooney farce. A few of the performances were egregiously over the top, completely missing Orton’s point about the ruthless cold-bloodedness of authority. Natalie Spanner and Michael Makar, as Fay and Hal, come closest to playing in the Orton style, with John Reilly contributing as the grieving widower. (Spanner is an occasional CP contributor.)

But here’s the thing: The less Orton-like the production became, the more the audience loved it. And those over-the-top moments, which bothered me greatly, are what the audience ate up! So DeConciliis, who’s an artistic cornerstone of the Lake (and justifiably so), just might know his crowd better than I do.

And when you consider that Orton is long dead (his lover Kenneth Halliwell beat his head in with a hammer), I guess he’ll never hear about it.

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