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What The Butler Saw Theatre Review - A Proper British Romp

By Michelle Clay

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"What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

It is the classic case of a simply act of innocent mischief, turning into a serious case of mistaken identity, which leads to supersized screwball silliness, wrapped in British accents; fused all together to give you the latest production at the Mark Taper forum: What The Butler Saw.

Charles Shaughnessy in "What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

Dr. Prentice (Charles Shaughnessy) is about to try and do something… naughty. The psychiatrist has decided to take advantage of the unwitting new typist during her job interview. Geraldine Barclay (Sarah Manton) had come to the appointment in earnest, hoping to get the job, when she is talked into talking off her clothes as part of the interview process. She feels less than comfortable about it but trusts her new potential employer and reluctantly disrobes for the remainder of her interview.

Sarah Manton in "What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

The interview comes to a screeching halt when Mrs. Prentice (Frances Barber) arrives unexpectedly; and appropriates Geraldine’s dress that Dr. Prentice claims his actually one of hers. In between browbeating the doctor about what a poor husband he has been, Mrs. Prentice has been engaged in her own inappropriate endeavors with a hotel worker Nicholas Beckett (Angus McEwan); and he has taken pictures of her misbehavior in order to blackmail her (just as he does with most of his wealthy clientele).

Angus McEwan & France Barber in "What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

Dr. Rance (Paxton Whitehead), a fellow doctor at the clinic, enters the scene with a secret agenda in search of documentable medically findings of the incestual pyscho-drama to authenticate the book he has prematurely promised his publisher. Armed with the power and propensity to deem people crazy, Rance find the parade of scantily clad persons and the hysterical wife who sees them as utterly explainable, just so long as he is the one in charge of doing the explaining.

(l to r) Sarah Manton, Paxton Whitehead & Charles Shaughnessy in "What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

Sergeant Match (Rod McLachlan) is called into the clinic with the two fisted task of not only finding the missing secretary, but once found, to question Geraldine’s knowledge and possible possession of certain missing parts of a statue of Winston Churchill, unaccounted for after the ill-fated explosion that took place at the residence of her godmother.

Rod McLachlan & France Barber in "What The Butler Saw" at the Mark Taper Forum through December 21, 2014.

 

Things get a bit complicated when Beckett gets caught shaking wealthy women and needs hide to avoid questioning; when the police are sent to find the secratary that went missing after going to interview with Dr. Prentice; and the doctor himself works all morning long to conceal from everyone that he has been abusing his position by putting poor unsuspecting typists in awkward positions. All these situations, ironically call for many of the players to swap or strip clothing. It's a bit of a hot messy actually.

 

While the sear volume of rape and incest jokes employed in Orton’s play is a bit disturbing at times, at its core is a harmless romp of six silly characters on a collision course with the truth.  The twists and turns of this Joe Orton comedy will keep you on your toes until its elaborate, yet ultimately satisfying ending. For me the star turn in this production is the extremely talented France Barber. Her Long-suffering, sex-starved Mrs. Prentice is the character who is the least in the know of the unfolding events, yet the one most human enough to surrender to her potentially failing grip on sanity. She is primarily the straight man to a quartet of lunatics. Ms. Barber portrays her broadly, bawdily and brilliantly. 

 

What the Butler Saw is running now through December 21, 2014 at

Mark Taper Forum

at the Music Center

Downtown Los Angeles

135 North Grand Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

Published on Nov 25, 2014

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