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St. Louis by Richard Green

Entertaining Mr. Sloane
HotCity Theatre

Also see Richard's review of Parade


Paul Cereghino and Lavonne Byers
This show is doubly entertaining: because of its Jekyll and Hyde construction that balances the opposing genres of sex-farce and kitchen-sink melodrama; and also because of all of the tremendous amount of talent on stage that's absolutely squandered in service of that aforementioned sex-farce. You could certainly produce playwright Joe Orton's 1964 stage debut with less energetic and insightful actors, but it wouldn't have any of the absurd magnificence they pour on here for two solid hours.

In fact, critics whose experience dates back to the early 1960s would call this blending of the sexy and silly, alongside the dark and dangerous, "Ortonesque." But if you're a baby boomer, you might recognize it more as one of the inspirations for the darker comedy of Monty Python, for example.

Lavonne Byers is wonderfully dim and needy and lascivious as Kath, presented with the opportunity to take in a handsome young lodger (the playful and mysterious Paul Cereghino). Ms. Byers is what you might call "Brenda Blethyn-adjacent" in most of her performance (if you remember the British actress from the movie Secrets and Lies), though the analogy does break down eventually, as her groveling, anything-to-please attitude is eventually replaced by something more like the brainy "Lavonne Byers" style, which has so thoroughly engaged local audiences over the years.

Mr. Cereghino is superbly funny as the manipulative boy-toy to end all boy-toys, and also fairly dim throughout—alternating between the hilarious and the ruthless, especially when confronted with a mysterious death from a few years earlier.

Bill Whitaker directs, urging his performers on to more and more finely articulated and nuanced minutes and seconds and even micro-seconds. In fact, there's so much chatty English word-wrestling going on in this 49-year-old show that Entertaining Mr. Sloane becomes a very complicated little pocket watch, in its own nefarious way. Probably, if you were paying for every psychological twist and turn, it would cost you five times as much just to get in the door.

I know that sounds like a lot of effort for all involved, and apparently it really is—in 2009, both leads in a London revival pulled out, citing exhaustion. Here, though, Ms. Byers and Mr. Cereghino "only" have to endure it for another two weeks, thank goodness. And the hardest work you'll do is to be amazed at the artfulness of it all.

The highly esteemed Bill Grivna is the grumbling old man of the piece, by turns showing piercing bravery and cowering fear—father to Kath and to her brother Ed (Michael James Reed), who's dominant and surly and even mysterious too, in his own way.

Sexuality and all the ways the mind conspires to gain identity in relation to the male factor are run through a kind of brooding, dramatic spectrometer, with a surprising amount of tension and upset, even as every possible laugh in the script goes racing by like mile-markers along a darkened route.

Through September 21, 2013, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, between Saint Louis University and the Fox Theatre on Olive at 501 N Grand (in the old Woolworth's building). For more information go to www.hotcitytheatre.org or call (314) 289-4063. Seating is limited, but if you arrive an hour early, you can usually park your car somewhere along Lindell Blvd., a block south.

Cast
Kath: Lavonne Byers
Sloane: Paul Cereghino
Kemp: Bill Grivna*
Ed: Michael James Reed*

Production Staff
Director: Bill Whitaker
Stage Manager: Kate Koch*
Scenic Designer: C. Otis Sweezy
Lighting Designer: Sean Savoie
Costume Designer: Becky Fortner
Properties Master: Meg Brinkley
Sound Designer: Zoe C. Sullivan
Assistant Stage Manager: Jay Harvey
Technical Director: Tom Stevenson
Master Electrician: Josie Zeugin

* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the association of professional actors and stage managers in the US.


Photo: Todd Studios


-- Richard T. Green

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