• Comedy
  • By Joe Orton
  • Director: Craig Smith
  • Cast: Elise Stone, Matt Baguth, John Lenartz, Antonio Edwards Suarez
  • Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, New York

  • Until 14 May 2017
  • Review by Ann Pryor
  • 5 May 2017
Entertaining Mr. Sloane
5.0Reviewer's Rating

A hilarious, sexy, scathing farce that was deemed “a medieval English cesspool” when it debuted on Broadway on 1964,Entertaining Mr. Sloane is a tale of sex used for survival, siblings vying for the romantic attentions of a sociopath, and class struggle in English society.

The set is lit, a living room scene surrounded by mounds of black garbage bags; it’s a clever way to convey that the home sits in the midst of a rubbish dump. The lights come up on Kath, curled and smiling on the couch like an odd buddha.  Here she begins her hilarious and fragile undertaking of seducing Mr. Sloane, a boarder, played with an ominous air by a superbly smarmy Matt Baguth.  Kath – who swings between sweet and explosive – reveals her sad tale of abandonment by her true love many years ago, and of her baby, put up for adoption by her brother. She and Mr. Sloane, an orphan, are both “alone in the world”.  She persistently conflates Mr. Sloane with a lover and a baby, her mind muddled by her past, and he goes along for the proverbial and literal ride.

Dada, Kath’s father, played wonderfully by John Lenartz, is tasked initially with “entertaining Mr. Sloane”. It’s during their conversation that, despite his apparent feebleness, Dada recognizes Sloane from a crime scene. Here is the gun that goes off in the second act!

Brother Eddie is a possessive climber, full of airs and only a rung above the rubbish heap. He longs to master appearances and control everyone, but he can’t rise above his contempt. He chastises his sister: “You forgot to change the pillow slips.” He loves her, and behind her back calls her a sow.

Eddie interrogates Mr. Sloane in a slick scene that barely conceals his homosexual tendencies (and perhaps one of the reasons this play was denigrated during its time – homosexuality was decriminalized in England in 1967).  Antonio Edwards Suarez plays this role masterfully as his character slowly reveals the deep resentment he harbors for Kath.  She lured away his childhood friend, who may have been his true love. Here is the causus belli for why he chased off his sister’s lover and put up for adoption her child. And he, too, seduces – and is seduced by – Mr. Sloane. Years later, they again find themselves in a love triangle with one man at the center.

Elise Stone as Kath has beautiful comic timing, especially during the seduction scene where she boasts, “I have long elegant legs!” (She doesn’t.) In the act-within-an-act, she denies trying to seduce Mr. Sloane, revealing a cunning below her sweetness.  Here are the traits that tie her, Eddie, and Mr. Sloane together.

In the second act, the true Mr. Sloane is revealed. A clever storyteller, he has a fresh angle for the listener, and changes his story to suit the moment. To Dada, he confesses his crime (and then savagely beats him). To Eddie, he repeats the story but from a victim’s POV. He outfoxes every scenario and will say and promise whatever it takes to survive.  The triangle devolves into flagrant cruelty, and suddenly the tables turn as brother and sister gang up on Sloane. Eddie humorously notes, “I should have asked for references.”

Orton makes us see the parallels between spontaneous acts of violence and psychological manipulation and cruelty. The brother and sister delude themselves over a man who has inflicted unfathomable cruelty toward them and their father, and they, too, will do and say anything to get what they want.

Director Craig Smith and his team have come up with unique flourishes that add amazing details to the stage action: dogs barking, background music and amusing piano flourishes that serves as a soundtrack, even incense and perfume. The production makes this 53-year-old play just as incendiary and sordid as it was when it debuted.  It’s deliciously perverse and genuinely funny, a sexy, dark farce.

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