I don’t know if it’s the fact that the last few shows I’ve seen at UW were spectacular; I don’t know if it’s that I’ve been so impressed with the acting chops of the current grad students at UW; but either my expectations were too high for this show or I caught the cast on a bad night, because I was absolutely underwhelmed by the opening night performance of Loot at the University of Washington.
Given that two of my current favorite young actors, Skye Edwards and Zack Virden, both of whom I have raved about in my reviews of Bus Stop and Pippin, I was so excited to see them back on stage together again, and in a farce, no less!
I’m a big fan of British Farce, and of the Playwright, Joe Orton, so to me, this was a match made in heaven, given the chameleon-esque quality of the current talent within the PATP at UW. But sadly, the night I saw the show, it was flop after flop.
For those of you who don’t know Loot, it’s a whimsical, albeit dark farce set in the home of Mr. McLeavy, who has just lost his wife, and is a pillar in the Catholic community. The play opens between the time of viewing the body of the late Mrs. McLeavy, and getting her to the burial site. While this should be a time of mourning, Orton throws his audience into a whirlwind of over the top ridiculousness by way of Hal (son of Mr. & Mrs. McLeavy) and Dennis (Hal’s friend/lover) who have recently robbed a bank, and have to find a way to hide their loot, all while under the skeptical/investigative gaze of Nurse Fay (former nurse of Mrs. McLeavy, hoping to become the next Mrs. McLeavy) and Inspector Truscott (claims to be from the water board, but is clearly a police detective from, I think, Scotland?). Let the mayhem ensue.
While there was mayhem, the direction was so spazzy, the blocking so unnecessary in so many places, and the poor actors trying to commit so fully to it, there was very little entertainment. I was completely bored out of my mind, actually. I also reviewed Director, Sean Ryan’s work on Bus Stop, and was less than thrilled by his work there. I had hoped he had improved since then, but I found the same faults with his concept of this show as I did with Bus Stop: strange blocking, awkward character choices, laughable/unrealistic fight scenes, and overall weak concept. For all his love of farce called out in the director’s notes in the program, the superficial-one-note characters that I watched awkwardly move around that stage told me doesn’t truly understand farce. To like farce is not enough to successfully bring one to life, and Mr. Ryan did not successfully pull one off, in my opinion, the night I saw Loot.
My biggest complaint is twofold: character development and accents. I didn’t believe one relationship on that stage, it was so bizarre! And with the awkward blocking, there were many times where it felt like the actors 1) didn’t know where they were supposed to be and 2) were not even remotely connected to what they were saying, let alone each other. And for the latter, I’m wondering if it’s because they were all focusing on their accents, only one of which felt natural.
Mr. McLeavy, played by John Murray had a very convincing easy British accent. Nurse Fay’s (played by Jess Moss) and Hal McLeavy’s (played by Zach Virden) accents went in and out quite a bit, and shifted from different versions of British (cockney one moment, high brow London the next, etc.), and it was quite tough to listen throughout the first act. And Inspector Truscott (played by Skye Edwards) was, I think, supposed to be Scottish, although at times he sounded Russian and then would slide up into Irish now and again. And unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, I’ve been watching a lot of Outlander lately, so I have Scottish accents burned into my brain right now, and his was nowhere near consistently correct.
Character development also left me disappointed, especially for the roles of Hal and Nurse Fay. Ms. Moss was Maria in Twelfth Night, and was brilliant! And we all know Mr. Virden was my favorite thing in Pippin! So I know these two actors are phenomenal at character development and commitment, but they both left me underwhelmed in this show. Mr. Virden’s Hal was clearly a gay character, and he was playing him sporadically over the top. So, there were flouncing moments that looked forced and fake, which puzzled me, because trust me, Mr. Virden is a brilliant physical actor! But this role did not showcase his talent well at all. Ms. Moss’s Nurse Fay, who is supposed to be the object of desire of a few men in this show had the most one note performance I’ve seen in a while, which again, goes seriously against the layers of depth I know Ms. Moss is capable of as an actor. Based on what I know of the talent of these two young actors, I can only lay the blame at the feet of their director. Were they under rehearsed? Were they not clear on the characters? Did they not dig deep into these relationships during rehearsal? I don’t know, it just didn’t work. And it was quite telling by the very few laughs the audience dolled out during this show, the most obvious and awkward of which was a scene where Ms. Moss is undressing the corpse of Mrs. McLeavy behind a screen, tossing her clothes over to Mr. Virden who is doing a ridiculously long monologue while holding up the female garments to himself and acting effeminate in a completely unrealistic way that just left the audience silent because it was so odd.
I will give major kudos to the designers on this show, however, as the set and costumes were fantastic! I also really enjoyed the lighting, although the tech was a bit wonky, what with lights coming on prior to the actor’s actually getting to the light switch. I’m guessing a newbie board op had an itchy go-button finger on opening night.
I was so bored and irritated, that I left at intermission. However, I’ve seen that some folks are raving about the show, so perhaps I just caught Loot on a bad night.
I give this a blah, underwhelmed sigh that would have had me leaving in a blackout, had there been one at all in the first act. Since there wasn’t I suffered until intermission.
Loot plays for one more weekend, and show times and ticket information can be found on the UW School of Drama’s website.
Ciao for now,
Photos from UW School of Drama Website