Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
What The Butler Saw
What The Butler Saw
Also see Tracy's review of Three Sistahs
There is no butler to be seen in Signature Theatre's production of What The Butler Saw, and there is probably a good reason he decided to stay away. This exhausting farce, written by Joe Orton in the late sixties, was constructed to both scandalize and amuse its audience. Although this piece has retained much of its comic value, its ability to shock has diminished.
This randy tale was described by Orton himself as "likely to raise eyebrows in the Lord Chamberlain's office." It relates the story of a lecherous psychiatrist and the chaos that ensues when he attempts to seduce a young woman who is not his wife. In this piece, Orton openly mocks governmental incompetence, the institution of marriage, and sex. When it comes to sex, Orton doesn't leave anything out, including infidelity, homosexuality and a slew of jokes about rape that seem out of place in this day and age. And of course, there is that ever-present door slamming as the cast of characters shuttle on and off the stage in a state of frenzy.
As Mrs. Prentice's blackmailer, Daniel Frith is an immensely charming ruffian. His fellow actor, Conrad Feininger, plays the incompetent Dr. Rance. Feininger has succeeded in capturing the character's pompous attitude but at times he is difficult to understand. The true standout of this group is Tony Gudell as Sergeant Match. Gudell's role is very physical and like Ms. Harris, he displays some hilarious physical comedy.
Now, getting back to those doors; they are a huge part of the piece and scenic designer James Kronzer has provided four. The audience actually enters the theater through one of these doors, putting each one at center stage for one brief moment. Director Jonathan Bernstein makes good use of these doors, as they are key in moving the plot along. Mr. Bernstein does an admirable job with Orton's material. His actors move at a hectic pace that seems appropriate for the piece, but at times it is a bit too much.
As a whole, the show is amusing enough but it seems to be lacking. Perhaps it is a bit too frantic or it may be that the jokes have gone stale. At any rate, What The Butler Saw never quite comes together.
The Signature Theatre
Dr. Rance: Conrad Feininger