Loot, the 1965 farce by Joe Orton, brings a sophisticated verbal wit and a deep sense of theatrical tradition to the most anarchic impulses of the era in which it was written. The result is a caustically funny play full of the kinds of things that make you feel a bit guilty for laughing (i.e., a young man wrestling with his mother’s corpse). Jonathan Fox has assembled a superb cast, and, with the assistance of dialect coach J.B. Blanc, they have mastered the intricacies of Orton’s language, which is rooted in the age-old English hypersensitivity to class distinctions. As McLeavy, David McCann ricochets between the sentimentality of a bereaved widower and the hypocrisy of a thoroughgoing twit. Barbara Lackner’s costumes render the characters in precise shadings, and for this lapsed Catholic, the blue suit in which McLeavy attends his wife’s funeral went far toward specifying the exact type of ceremony-obsessed church elder McLeavy is supposed to be. As his son Hal, Kerby Joe Grubb creates many of the play’s most shocking moments. Focused only on the loot that gives the show its title, Hal shows little interest in his mother’s death and no discernible feelings of love toward either parent. It’s meant to be a portrayal of the youth rebellion of the 1960s, and while there’s little of the culture one associates with the generation gap in Hal, there’s a lot of the anger and resentment that fueled it.
As Fay, McLeavy’s nurse and quite possibly a serial killer, Heather Prete does an outstanding job with some of the play’s most difficult dialogue. Fay’s character is a takeoff on staples from detective stories and farces, and, in this subtle and ferocious variation, her lines are outrageous. Prete picks up all the nuance of this role, and, when she curtsies after being complimented on her confession, one feels that the world is truly mad—clearly the playwright’s intent.
Wyatt Fenner brings a dashing presence to Dennis, the undertaker’s assistant who is both charged with burying Mrs. McLeavy and who has collaborated with Hal on a robbery. Ultimately though, the show belongs to Ned Schmidtke as Truscott, Orton’s cuckoo-clock version of a detective from Scotland Yard. This time he’s from the Water Board, or at least he says he is, and the brilliantly funny physical characterization only adds to the hilarity of his manic intrusions. Schmidtke’s exuberant portrayal of this madcap is one of the season’s absolute can’t-miss performances and is likely to only get better as the run continues.