BY TARA McCARTHY
As quoted in the show program, playwright Joe Orton was “widely recognized as the bad boy of British theatre.” And only minutes into What The Butler Saw, it’s rather obvious why.
The Guild’s production of the 1969 sexual farce opens with a peculiar job interview, which introduces Dr. Prentice – finely cast by Eric Epstein. Straight down to the mustache, Epstein nonchalantly embodies the sadistically sly psychiatrist with an answer for everything.
Charlie Wilson sits across the desk from Epstein as the innocent and doe-eyed Geraldine Barclay. Wilson’s attention to the character’s harmless replies and dim-witted reactions progressively shows Miss Barclay is truly the sanest amongst a cast of lunatics.
What The Butler Saw is ultimately a folly of misunderstandings with ridiculous outcomes. A twisted doctor attempts to hide his pursuit of another woman from his wife, thus spawning a web of deceit and eventual cross-dressing.
The script itself is charged with sexual innuendos and dry humour. The most engaging circumstances within the plot are the densely offensive arguments carried out between Epstein’s Dr. Prentice and Mrs. Prentice, played with a rousingly vicious demeanour by Bronwyn Jones.
Continual banter between the un-happily married couple conjures thoughts of the famous bickering of Basil and Sybil Fawlty in the 1970s British comedy classic, Fawlty Towers. Jones applies a sharp tongue to her role as Mrs. Prentice, which grows with comedic value as her penchant for liquor persists. In return, Epstein thickens with humour as his character’s paranoia increases.
There are moments when the production feels slightly empty, as though there should be more movement on the stage. And the witty repartee between multiple characters is stronger in both humour and plot progression than the sporadic monologues that occur.
Doug Neill’s portrayal of Dr. Rance is partially lost in bouts of quick delivery, but does provoke a smattering of laughs. It’s easy to tell by Orton’s writing that the lines are meant to drip with dry humour and subtle delivery, which is not an easy task for the actors, but well tackled on most accounts.
Jeremiah Kuiack Kitchen is perhaps the most physically comfortable one on the stage. Playing the role of the young hotel pageboy, Nicholas Beckett, he spends a good portion of the show in white briefs, a dress or zilch – which never appears to faze him.
And Ian McGiffin does a decent job in the more minor role as the baffled policeman, Constable Match, who stumbles upon the others once the cross-dressing and confusion is well underway.
While the actors’ British accents do waver occasionally, the cast keeps the twisted plot moving. The conclusion is best left unspoiled, but is of preposterous proportions and played with wonderfully apathetic reactions by all.
Much like the obvious idiocy of a Ben Stiller film, the play causes one to want to rush the stage and clear up the haphazard misunderstandings with a few simple explanations. But with its absurd charm, physical comedy and sprinkling of hilarious one-liners, it’s more entertaining to let it all play out.
PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]