Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

FSU/Asolo Conservatory

Also see Bill's review of Thurgood

Matthew Andersen, Brian Owen and Jory Murphy
The Asolo Conservatory is presenting Joe Orton's Loot in a spectacularly directed and acted production. Joe Orton was a child of the 1960s, a bridge between the "angry young men" of John Osborne (Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer) and the wacky but still very much counter-culture Monty Python. Orton only wrote three plays, as well as couple of projects for other media, because in 1967 he was bludgeoned to death in his sleep by his lover. All of his plays contain strong social commentary mixed with comedic elements, but Loot seems to have the most interesting mixture. It is 1/3 straight up farce complete with romps in and out of doors, nonsensical confrontations and general mayhem, 1/3 biting satire—in this case the subjects include attitudes toward death, misuse of institutional power, and sexual morays—and the other 1/3 is indescribable.

Jonathan Epstein, professor of Shakespeare performance, has directed the student cast to keep the farcical elements razor sharp. In an intermission conversation, he discussed several pieces of business that he added or enhanced, one of which was being able to fully see a character as he has a door slammed in his face multiple times. I believe that his direction is the single most important element in the production's success. I have seen several Asolo Conservatory Productions that were misdirected and the acting seemed to be hopelessly incompetent, which is definitely not the case with Loot. In a talkback after the performance the actors discussed additional elements that add to the overall success of this production, including outstanding dialects as coached by Patricia DeLorey. The English accents are excellent throughout, unlike in at least one recent show I saw at another theater where the performers would have been better advised not to attempt them.

The physicality of this production is one of its glories, probably the doing of Eliza Ladd, credited as movement coach, and flight choreographer Brian Nemiroff. These extra supports are available to the actors because of the educational setting.

All six student actors are to be commended for excellent performances. I suspect that being students makes them more receptive to a strong directorial hand. Michael Frishman as McLeavy is excellent, playing way beyond his years. His makeup is very good, and when he came out for the talkback I began to wonder how old he really is (I would guess late 20s). Olivia Williamson, as Fay and the only female in the cast, owns the stage, flirtatious with McLeavy and Matthew Andersen as Dennis in competition with each other, sassy, dangerous, and just plain wonderful. Her physical transformation in the second act is startling. Jory Murphy as Hal is just what he should be, strong one second, deferential to Dennis, his older "mate," the next and a son to his father McLeavy. The sideburns he sports are altogether real, I learned during the talkback.

I picture Truscott played by the sort of English character actor who can also make a meal of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic leads. Brian Owen plays him 20 years younger and it works. He is the catalyst for all the comic action that ensues, cajoling each of the other characters into actions that would seem to lay dormant within them. His "riff" with Dennis near the end of act one is a comic highlight. Paul Herbig has little to do as Police Officer Meadows, but he does it effectively. In rehearsal they were going to beef up the part but had a change of heart.

The costumes by Ross Boehringer are just about perfect as are Chris McVicker's sets and lighting design. Two different types of fleck wallpaper (so in vogue in the late '50s and early '60s) really define the era and class setting. Steven Lemke has designed the sound without miking the actors, which would be unnecessary in such a small theater (fewer than 200 seats.) A tip of the hat to Erin MacDonald who stage manages this two-ring circus of a play without mishap.

I have now seen all three of Joe Orton's plays, Loot, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw , on stage and to be honest I am not sure that I love them. They are a bit too edgy with a counter-culture viewpoint for my taste, yet they continue to be performed regularly almost 50 years out. This production shows why.

Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents Loot through January 19, 2014, at the Cook Theater in Sarasota. For more information, visit

McLeavy: Michael Frishman
Fay: Olivia Williamson
Hal: Jory Murphy
Dennis: Matthew Andersen
Truscott: Brian Owen
Meadows: Paul Herbig

Directed by Jonathan Epstein
Costumes: Ross Boehringer
Set and Lighting Design: Chris McVicker
Sound Design: Steven Lemke
Stage Manager: Erin MacDonald

Photo: Asolo Conservatory

--William S. Oser

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