‘Loot’ at the Flying Anvil Theater – Arts Knoxville
BY ALAN SHERROD
For the first two decades of its existence since its initial production in 1965, by Joe Orton Booty continued to shock audiences with its satirical irreverence toward civic authority, middle-class propriety, the church, the police, and the funeral industry. Even the involvement of gay characters was controversial. In a remarkable production of Booty at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York in 1986, there was still breath to be held over some of that rumbling irreverence. However, that clash was on the wane, and today the old drama dog that is Booty is all bark and no bite. In 2022, revelations of hypocrisy and abuse in the church are hardly new; dishonesty in the police is a common premise of TV crime shows; and with the legality of same-sex marriage, most of Western society understands that homosexuality is simply a reality. So, apart from a chapter of theater history, what remains to be done Booty interesting or funny for today’s audience?
Obviously, director Jayne Morgan at the helm of The Flying Anvil Theater production of Booty which opened last weekend, understands this dilemma, even commenting on it in the program notes. As a result, she focused on the play as an example of farce-comedy, pushing the elements of that genre – the comic book delivery and timing, the intricate rhythm of ins and outs, and the essence of the visual comedy, the sight gag. Farce, too, requires a constant, sophisticated ebb and flow between clever exposition and delightful comedic moments, moments in which the characters embrace their own hypocrisy and act as if they truly believe in the ridiculousness of their actions. And, most importantly, the stuffing requires sharp, focused, and unhesitating comic line delivery, sadly something that seemed like a challenge for this production.
The audience find themselves in the drawing room of an English home as the embalmed body of the recently deceased Mrs. McLeavy (Lisa Silverman) is carried in a coffin as her grieving husband (Greg Congleton) prepares for the funeral. What we find out is that McLeavy’s gay son Hal (Eric Walker) has just robbed a wick bank with undertaker Dennis (Malik Baines) and the pair must find a place to hide the loot. and avoid the ethically challenged detective, Inspector Truscott (Jacques DuRand). Truscott, of course, snoops for the loot, while Mrs. McLeavy’s nurse Fay (Kara Van Veghel), a woman with her own history of “legacy” from deceased husbands, has her eye on Mr. McLeavy. . Let’s see…what would be a good place to hide the loot from prying eyes?
Kudos to Mr. Congleton for his well-constructed and delivered character of McLeavy, a man abused and treated with contempt, not only by the civic authorities he holds in such high regard, but also by Fay and her son. Appearing in Act II with a bandaged head, he masterfully plays everyone’s hypocrisy with carefully honed satire and beautifully handles the hilarious story from the trip to the funeral, including a car accident, damage to the coffin and a mutilating dog.
I’m sure DuRand’s Inspector Truscott considers himself a kind of Sherlock Holmes, but for comedy and satire he probably looks more like a Kafla-esque version of Inspector Clouseau, minus the integrity and falls. Van Veghel seemed to keep much of Fay’s juicy badness to herself, admittedly a surprise. While that’s no longer shocking, I also missed some of the punch and comedic backlash of Dennis and Hal’s “relationship.”
And, although Ms. Silverman has no lines, she gets one of the biggest laughs on the show for her “gymnastics” test and plenty of well-deserved applause.
Bootyby Joe Orton, continues at the Flying Anvil Theater Thursdays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through April 3. Tickets and information