Sunday, September 4, 2016

Theater Review: What the Butler Saw -- Westport

Patricia Kalember and Robert Stanton. Photo: Carol Rosegg


What the Butler Saw

By Joe Orton
Directed by John Tillinger
Westport Country Playhouse
Extended through Sept. 11

What's It All About?
One of those British farces that might have been funny in 1969 when it premiered, but doesn't appeal all that much in 2016.  Robert Stanton stars as a morally corrupt psychiatrist who includes disrobing and groping an applicant for the position as his secretary. Geraldine Barclay (Sarah Manton) complies. Why? It is supposed to be funny. It also is supposed to be funny when Prentice gazes up her skirt. 

When Prentice's wife, (Patricia Kalember) shows up at the office unexpectedly, the doctor pretends Geraldine is a mental patient and has her committed to avoid his wife's suspicion. Geraldine goes along with this. Why? Because it is supposed to be funny....  Meanwhile, Mrs Prentice, who is a nymphomaniac, is blackmailed by her one-night stand, Nicholas Becket (Chris Ghaffari), who also ends up assuming other identities to avoid detection. Hoping to restore order are Sergeant Match (Julian Gamble) and Dr. Rance (Paxton whitehead), who has dropped by to conduct an inspection of Dr. Prentice's clinic.

What Are the Highlights?
  • Paxton Whitehead. A treat every time he is on stage (he has entertained in Bedroom Farce, The Circle and How the Other Half Loves at Westport Country Playhouse), Whitehead gets most of the chuckles here as a doctor who jumps to conclusions often and incorrectly. To be fair, he does have the funniest lines in the script, and the skilled actor makes the most of everyone.
"I'm not interested in your explanations," he says at one point. "I have my own." That might not seem funny at first reading, but after hearing Dr. Rance go off on ridiculous tangents for two hours, this line is particularly laugh-inducing, especially with Whitehead's expert delivery.

  • Patricia Kalember. Another favorite actress, does her best to make the wife interesting and is a knock out in Laurie Churba's costumes and a blondish wig.

What are the Lowlights?
If you haven't figured it out by now, I don't find sexual mistreatment of women funny. even less so when the characters to which the abuse is directed think it is OK or even welcome. So forgive me if this type of "farce" just isn't my cup of tea, John Tillinger, who is directing his 14th show at the Playhouse (and recently directed this play in LA), keeps the doors opening and shutting at a pretty good pace (with the help of Robert Westley, who choreographs movement and firearms), but the ending doesn't work and is awkwardly staged (on James Noone's doctor office set with props by Karin White.)

More Information?
What the Butler Saw has been extended through Sept. 11, with an additional performance at 3 pm Sunday, Sept 11. Other performances this week are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 3 and 8 pm.  Tickets start at $30: www.westportplayhouse.org; 203- 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529; Box Office, 25 Powers Court.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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