Entertaining Mr. Sloane at Publick Theatre

Joe Orton's Artful Lodger's Wicked Ménage à trois

By: - Mar 17, 2010

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Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Written by Joe Orton
Directed by Eric C. Engel
Dahlia Al-Habieli, Scenic Design; Molly Trainer, Costume Design; Kenneth Helvig, Lighting;  John Doerschuk, Production Management and Sound Design; Angie Jepson, Fight Choreography; Lauren Duffy, Props. Marsha Smith, Production Stage Manager; Olivia MacFadden, Assistant Stage Manager; Joanne Barrett, Publicity and Public Relations.
Cast: Sandra Shipley (Kath), Jack Cutmore-Scott (Sloane), Dafydd Rees (Kemp), Nigel Gore (Ed).
Presented by the Publick Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, through April 3.

Towards the end of Entertaining Mr. Sloane, written in 1964, a horrific violence occurs. It contrasts sharply with the laughter, good times and sexual jousting that make up the majority of this play. In an odd twist of fate, Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane - his first successful play - foreshadowed his own death. He too had welcomed a stranger into his home. In Orton's case it was Kenneth Halliwell who in 1967 bludgeoned the 34-year-old playwright to death with nine hammer blows to the head.

The play was a prophecy. It is all detailed in the motion picture Prick Up Your Ears.

It also caused many British fingers to be wagged since it was one of the first to explore issues of hustling and amorphous sexuality on stage. Back then, before Stonewall, you neither asked nor told, you just whispered and hinted. While the Publick Theatre's production goes light on the gay content, it was enough back then to cause censorious tongues to wag.

Over the years various productions of Entertaining Mr. Sloane have had the title character totally nude, or - at minimum - walking around with his shirt off. While Mr. Sloane's trousers come off in this production, everything else pretty much stays on. Kath's disrobing is tastefully done, in the best Boston tradition. The lights modestly go to black when Kath and Sloane do the deed. Hollywood movies are far more revealing.

Director Eric C. Engel has chosen to play it pretty straight, which is pretty much as Orton wrote it, though he condenses the original three acts into two.

In a fit of dazzling casting, he and the Publick Theatre have found four wonderful British born actors to play the various roles. The brilliant Sandra Shipley plays landlady Kath with great comedic timing, a delightful change of pace for an actor who has been spending most of her time in Broadway dramas in recent years. She was most recently in Equus with Daniel Radcliffe, so her return to Boston is most welcomed.

Nigel Gore (Ed) is familiar to Berkshire audiences for his work at Shakespeare & Company where he will return this Spring to appear with Tina Packer in Women of Will.

Gore plays Kath's brother, one whose ability to manipulate is equal to Mr. Sloane. Playing Kemp or "dada" is Dafydd Rees who can say more in a Grotowski-esque series of grunts and snorts than any other actor in recent memory.

Finally there is the professional debut of Jack Cutmore-Scott as Mr. Sloane, and this charismatic actor nails his role. He arrived on our shores at 18 to attend Harvard and at 22 is every bit the equal of the other British veterans of the stage. When he and Sandra Shipley are engaged in their game-playing courting ritual, you don't want to do so much as blink for fear of missing even a split second of it.

And when Kath's brother Ed decides to hire him, and kit him out in full leather and a silk tee shirt, you know there's more than one lustful person after Mr. Sloane.

The pivot point in the plot is not sexual, however. Rather it is a secret that Kath's father knows: a dark secret in Sloane's past that will come back to wreak havoc in the second act.

What is particularly striking about this production is the degree to which the actors have become an ensemble, four characters whose impeccable timing and focus enable the individuals to become real, their story credible.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane captures the mood of a distant time, but one that is not far from today. The difference is that much of Mr. Sloane's sexual,  moral and ethical ambiguity was relatively rare then, and it is rather commonplace today. And in 2010 America, it is not nearly as polite.

As the inscrutable Mr. Sloane, Jack Cutmore-Scott is a dormant volcano whose ability to suddenly explode catches the audience by surprise every time. He is clearly an actor to watch.

Last fall, Nigel Gore played George to Tina Packer's Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, in a production that was extraordinary. Now we have an absolutely brilliant Entertaining Mr. Sloane.

The Publick Theatre is clearly on a roll.