Entertaining Mr. Sloane
The Publick Theatre brings Joe Orton’s comedy Entertaining Mr. Sloane to riotous life at the Boston Center for the Arts through April 3.
Orton’s plays commanded attention in his own day partly because they were so bold and Orton himself was gay; a gay sensibility shows up in his work, which is rapidly paced and cleverly plotted, farcical in energy as well as tone. But Orton’s work resonates today for other reasons: the strength of his characterizations, for example, or the cutting precision of his social critique. In Sloane--as director Eric Engel has noted--Orton zeroes in on the desperate need for connection that his small cast of characters exhibit.
Middle-aged landlady Kath (Sandra Shipley) is the easiest to characterize as lonesome to the point of loopiness. Immediately upon meeting young Mr. Sloane (Jack Cutmore-Scott), Kath is ready to offer him lodging--and to either adopt him as a surrogate son, or take him on as a lover, or--as Orton’s gleefully Oedipal script makes disconcertingly plain--both.
And why wouldn’t Kath conduct herself in such a manner? She’s lived an unfulfilling life as caretaker to her aging father Kemp (Dafydd Rees), and she’s grown desperate for a man’s tender touch, such as she only knew twenty years earlier. She’s also been missing the maternal experience she was forcibly denied. Kath had a child twenty years earlier, but her brother Ed (Nigel Gore) forced her to give the baby up for adoption, partly because Ed was angry that the infant’s father was his best friend. The involvement of a girl--his own sister, no less--and a baby was an intolerable intrusion on the close male idyll that Ed had enjoyed.
Such an idyll seems to be Ed’s ideal even now: upon meeting Sloane, Ed, too, is ready to accommodate him--with a job, in this case, though there’s a clear undercurrent of erotic interest.
Sloane--young, lazy, aimless, without resources--is all too apt to play on the sexual interest he arouses in both Ed and Kath, and before long he has installed himself in their lives as an endlessly titillating fixture for Ed, and a boy toy for Kath. It’s a tricky act for Sloane to balance one sibling against the other, but a further complication arises in Kemp identifying Sloane as the perpetrator in a crime from years before. Is Sloane truly dangerous? Will Ed and Kath, both in too-tight orbits around him, collide? Is there any villainy that Sloane can perpetrate that he won’t be forgiven on account of his youth and his good looks?
Engel has an all-British cast to work with, and they carry the play off with flying colors, their timing and tone perfectly calibrated to Orton’s biting wit and the venality that he assigns to the characters. Set designer Dahlia Al-Habieli and sound designer John Dorshunk are just as spot-on: the set is right out of 1960s England, a perfect sitting room in which to set the action but, more importantly, to contain the ferocious tides of desire and desperation that propel Orton’s comedy.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane plays through April 3 at the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 539 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.
Tickets cost $33-$37.30 and can be purchased online at bostontheatrescene.com, at the box office, or via phone at 617-933-8600.
Performance schedule: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 3:00 p.m.