Orton's 'Loot' is still a hoot in Sarasota

FSU/Asolo Conservatory stages a lively version of the '60s British farce

mclear@bradenton.comJanuary 5, 2014 

Brian Owen, Paul Herbig and Olivia Williamson star in FSU/Asolo Conservatory's production of "Loot."FRANK ATURA/PUBLICITY PHOTO

It's been a half-century since Joe Orton wrote "Loot." Time, and changes in art and society have somewhat blunted its satirical barbs.

Orton's play was outrageous, shocking and almost scandalous when it appeared on the British stage in the mid-1960s.

Bisexual bank robbers, homicidal nurses, police officials who ignored the law and disdained the public, joking references to pedophilia and sight gags about necrophilia -- these things were not the stuff of stage comedy 50 years ago.

They're more common and less shocking now, so "Loot" seems more like pure farce than social satire.

But that scarcely matters when you're watching the current production of the Orton classic by the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. "Loot" may no longer be quite so scandalous, but it's as hilarious now as the day it was first staged.

The story has to do with a man who's wife has recently died. Her embalmed body still lies in a coffin in his living room. Her lascivious and greedy nurse hints at wanting to marry the widower.

Meanwhile, the man's son and his "mate," who happens to be the dead woman's undertaker and the nurse's occasional lover, have robbed a bank and hidden the money in the man's home. They decide to hide the loot in the coffin, but first they have to remove the corpse and hide it in a cupboard.

Then an inept cop shows up in disguise. He's such a bumbler, and so convinced of his own brilliance, that he ignores the plain evidence of larceny and homicide in front of his eyes because he's intent on serpentine interrogation.

Director Jonathan Epstein keeps the timing tight, the language lucid straight and the tone just sharp enough to give an edge to the silliness.

Standouts in the cast are Olivia Williamson, who's been impressive in everything she's done this year with the conservatory and with Banyan Theater, and Brian Owen as inappropriately pompous detective.

All the performances are excellent, though, and there's no need to qualify that by specifying that the actors are students. You wouldn't expect better performances from a professional company.

One small but unavoidable problem is that the actors are all about the same age, even though the characters span a couple of generations. Michael Frishman, as the widower, has to be overly made-up to look 25 years older.

Ross Boehringer's costumes summon the '60s without resorting to the polka-dots and flowers that mar so many contemporary stagings of plays set in that era.

Chris McVicker's set is nondescript and almost looks unfinished, but it's unobtrusive and impressively functional.

Details: "Loot" continues through Jan. 19 in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $29 for evening performances and $28 for matinees. Student tickets are $14.50. Call 941-351-8000 or go to www.asolorep.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.

Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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