With Matt Guidry.
With Matt Guidry, Randal Berger.
With Matt Guidry, Carolyn Pool, Randal Berger.
With Joel Liestman, Randal Berger.
With Randal Berger, Matt Guidry.
May 10 - 27, 2007
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
Randal Berger*, Matt Guidry*, Erik Hoover,
Joel Liestman*, Carolyn Pool* and Sara Richardson
David Allen Baker, Jr.*
What the Butler Saw is one of the most ludicrous comedies of all time. Joe Orton doesn’t let anyone off the hook in this scathing send-up of that ubiquitous British export, the “bedroom farce.”
Slamming doors, flying undergarments, mistaken identity … Welcome to Dr. Prentice's lunatic asylum, where everyone is mad, and none more so bthan the doctors.
Libidos run rampant in this breakneck farce about licensed insanity. The plot of What the Butler Saw contains enough twists and turns, mishaps and changes of fortune, coincidences and lunatic logic to furnish three or four conventional comedies.
Be prepared for an irreverent poke at stuffy institutions and our perceptions of madness. Hailed as a classic every bit as good as Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
*member, Actors' Equity
All Burning House Group productions will be performed at:
the Minneapolis Theater Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(Preview Thursday, May 10 - $10)
Tickets: $18 regular / $16 seniors / $10 students
$2 off with Fringe Buttons
Groups of 15 or more: $16 ea.
For reservations call 612-623-9396
see below for reviews from:
1 Star Tribune
2 Pioneer Press
3 City Pages
Theater review: 'What the Butler Saw' too much farce
By Claude Peck, Star Tribune
Last update: May 14, 2007 – 8:34 PM
There's been a bit of a run on Joe Orton plays in the Twin Cities in the past couple years, with the Jungle doing "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" two years ago, Theatre in the Round presenting "Loot" at the beginning of this year and The Burning House Group opening "What the Butler Saw" last weekend in Minneapolis.
It's easy to see why directors choose these farces of the 1960s, which combine clever language with ridiculous situations and passing storms of satire aimed at cherished institutions. But that doesn't make them easy to do well.
The promise and peril of Orton both are evident in a madcap and ultimately disappointing "Butler" at the Theater Garage, where, on an orange, yellow and red, "Laugh-In"-esque set, an expert cast throws itself into the antics of a story about a philandering psychiatrist.
Mustachioed psychiatrist Dr. Prentice (Matt Guidry) seeks a comely assistant in Geraldine Barclay (Sara Richardson). Using psychobabble, he convinces her to undress for the job interview. In walks Mrs. Prentice (Carolyn Pool), "just back from her coven meeting." Soon the Mrs. is entangled with a horny young bellboy (Erik Hoover). Blackmail. A looming scandal. The arrival of another shrink, "representing the government." Cross-dressing. Bourbon-chugging. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
In director David Allen Baker Jr.'s version, a door is never closed when it can be slammed loudly, and an actor rarely walks when he or she can run. All the velocity and noise might be easier to overlook if the characters ever developed into more than the thinnest of cardboard cutouts.
The anti-establishment jokes -- shrinks are crazy pill-pushers, the bourgeoisie are hypocrites, bureaucrats are self-important and delusional -- are glancing blows instead of real harpoons. Where in this show is Orton the working-class playwright, who in his short life became a harsh social critic capable of truly, deeply offending?
On the bright side is Sara Richardson, whose Geraldine is very Reese Witherspoon meets Betty Boop in a silent movie. You can't take your eyes off her eyes. Her voice and body language are hilarious and the script gives her some of the play's funniest lines.
Pool is a haughty glamour puss who nonetheless stomps around like an angry gym teacher, her lips in a continuous pout. She and Richardson get a boost from costumer Julie Guidry's bright and sexy 1960s get-ups.
Matt Guidry's Dr. Prentice and Randal Berger's Dr. Rance never come across as either high-test archrivals or birds of a feather. The biggest lost opportunity is the underdone central relationship between Dr. and Mrs. Prentice. Seeing how key the sibling relationship was to a stellar "Sloane" at the Jungle made this deficiency all the more glaring.
No butler, but plenty of madcap action
BY RENEE VALOIS
Special to the Pioneer Press
Article Last Updated: 05/14/2007 05:29:11 PM CDT
There's not a single butler in "What the Butler Saw." But there are plenty of sexual situations in the British farce named after an erotic peep show.
Although Joe Orton's last play (produced after his murder) won't seem as daring to modern audiences as it did in 1969, its naughtiness still pushes the boundaries of good taste. Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist, starts the madcap ball rolling when in the course of interviewing a young woman for the position of personal secretary, he convinces her to take off her clothes so he can "examine" her.
Matt Guidry as the daring Doctor echoes British comic villain Terry Thomas with his thin moustache and elastically insincere grins and pained grimaces - revealing lots of teeth. By contrast, Sara Richardson's high-pitched girly voice and hugely aghast expression telegraph the would-be secretary's innocence and dismay.
When Mrs. Prentice unexpectedly drops by, the doctor begins a series of increasingly ludicrous lies to cover up his attempted seduction. Carolyn Pool perpetually thrusts out her hips and her pouty lips as the impossible-to-satisfy wife who's supposedly a nymphomaniac and a "lesbian" - claiming that her husband counts as a girl.
Randal Berger, as a doctor from the government sent to inspect Prentice's asylum, adds a note of madness and greed to the mix, with a wonderfully over-the-top portrayal of a man eager to certify sane people as insane on his way to writing a tell-all book that will make him rich.
A bellhop (Erik Hoover) who attempts to blackmail Mrs. Prentice and has a thing for underage schoolgirls tangles with a clueless policeman (Joel Liestman) who - like almost everyone else - gets talked into stripping to his skivvies as various men and women end up in each other's clothing. Mistaken identities add to the confusion created by Dr. Prentice's lies until the abruptly ridiculous resolution.
Director David Allen Baker Jr. keeps the frantic action coming, with characters rolling back and forth across the stage on wheeled office chairs and weaving around each other as they dash in and out of the four doors. His choice to push the characters far into caricature-land helps boost the humor of the darkly absurd play; more restrained acting would have made some of the scenarios too real for comfort and difficult to stomach.
It's a fast and funny show - if you can laugh at jokes about rape, child molestation, incest, gay and straight sex, transvestites, sadomasochism, prostitution and missing "parts" of Winston Churchill.
Charles Fraser's psychedelic '60s set in eye-popping shades of red, orange, yellow and pink adds visual energy to the already-hopping production.
Orton's last show is also the Burning House Group's final production of its first full season. Given the fine direction and performances, we can only hope to see a lot more of them than "What the Butler Saw."
Seeking asylum in a sex farce of the '60s
HOW TO BED THE BIRDS IN THE CUCKOO'S NEST
by Quinton Skinner
May 16, 2007
When Joe Orton wrote What the Butler Saw in the late 1960s, sexual repression, the gender wars, and psychiatry were hot entrees on the banquet table of social controversy. (Back then, Orton's own homosexuality registered as a mental pathology.) So he set his farce in an institution for the insane, and loaded it up with enough lust and misunderstanding to convincingly indict his times. What this show represents today, though, is a bit of a mystery—and a challenge for the Burning House Group.
The action opens in the office of Dr. Prentice (Matt Guidry), who has just inaugurated a job interview with prospective secretary Geraldine (Sara Richardson). The doctor, after a few slugs of scotch to fortify his courage, persuades the lovely girl to strip off her clothes and lie down on a pink sofa bed he keeps behind a surgical curtain for just these occasions. Things are looking shagtastic for Prentice until his wife (Carolyn Pool) arrives unexpectedly early.
Guidry, with a lip-hugging moustache and criminally violet cravat, is unctuous from the start. He alternates between a heavy-lidded torpor and the wide-eyed gaze of a man looking for whatever opportunity presents itself amid a failing marriage. We're soon informed that the missus is a nymphomaniac: At one point Prentice tells his spouse: "You were born with your legs apart. They'll send you to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin." As a result, she is in the process of being blackmailed by a young man (Erik Hoover) with whom she shared a sexual adventure the night before.
Director David Allen Baker Jr. pitches this stuff pretty much like a randy episode of Fawlty Towers; there's plenty of sex talk, but the real business is men and women in various states of perusal, evasion, and marital bickering. Orton throws a crucial new element into the script with the arrival of Dr. Rance (Randal Berger), a government official who has come to document that things are on the level at the institution.
Naturally, things aren't. Prentice, desperate to hide his attempted seduction of Geraldine, follows the bombastic Rance's demand to have the girl committed. (Richardson's big eyes get stuck comically agog as her character tries and fails to explain herself.) Mrs. Prentice's suitor (Erik Hoover) appears in his hotel porter outfit, followed soon by a policeman (Joel Liestman) looking to arrest him for another dalliance (this one with a number of young schoolgirls. Their headmistress, whom he neglected to service, turned him in to the cops).
From here on out it's all slamming doors, men disguised as women and vice-versa, a tremendous amount of boozing, and some unintentional drug use. You get a sense of Orton laughing and rubbing his hands together as these generally unlikable characters churn and spin amid their own lies, resentments, venality, and grandiosity.
Berger, stamping his feet, shouting, and brandishing an oddly paralyzed arm, gives a performance utterly devoid of subtlety. It seems a fine way to play his character—a man who is utterly worthless at understanding anything around him yet envisions fame and fortune from writing a book about the imagined perversions in his midst. Pool is positively frightening, her lips thrust out, her character coming to life in a black slip, aroused only after being slapped around.
Orton's ending is cynical beyond belief, a repudiation of any dramatic concept of emotional payoff, and Pool brilliantly sells it with an exclamation to her newfound twin children (don't ask) that comes off like the most sincere thing anyone has said onstage all night. I can't proclaim that this is an evening without tedium—the machinations of this farce start to grind a little—but the Burning House Group keeps turning the crank with energy. It's also a chance to see the play that Orton himself never enjoyed, having been murdered by his lover before it opened. Social mores may change, but love is timeless in its knack for irony.
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