Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity

Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble kicks off its "Circa '69" season of significant and adventurous plays that premiered around the time of the Odyssey's 1969 inception with Joe Orton's darkly comic masterpiece LOOT, which asks us to wipe the fluff from our eyes and see society the way he sees it. As a gay man during a time when British society forced artists into the closet, his farce comically examines a sort of rigged system that benefits bullies and oppressors and controls anyone stupid enough to go along with the lies. Sounds too familiar again in our time.

As directed by Bart DeLorenzo, this tale of corrosive wit, dizzying intrigue and classic farce suggests that the only acceptable alternative is to become a criminal, with Orton supplying laughs at everyone's expense along the way.

When LOOT was first performed in the '60s, it shocked audiences with its merciless mockery of conventional propriety and frank depictions of Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity police brutality, religious hypocrisy, as well as both gay and bisexual lifestyles. According to DeLorenzo, Orton's plays haven't aged - and neither have his targets.

As a closeted gay man himself, Orton's outrageous dark comedies and macabre farces scandalized theater audiences in the 1960s with his openly bold sarcasm of law enforcement, born out of his own time in prison with Kenneth Halliwell, an actor and writer who became his life-long mentor, lover, roommate and collaborator, simply "because we were queers."

Handsome, young British actors Robbie Jarvis and Alex James-Phelps Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity star as young thieves Hal and Dennis, "friends with benefits" who have just robbed the bank next to a funeral parlor. And what safer place to hide the money, they surmise, than in the coffin of Hal's recently deceased Mum who is on display in the open casket center stage? It seems like a good plan until they fill the coffin up with the loot and there's no room left for the body. So where can they hide the departed and how will they be able to retrieve the money once the coffin is buried?

Hilarity ensues when the boys attempt to hide the corpse, played by the totally rubber-limbed Selina Woolery Smith, Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity from Hal's recently widowed father, Mr. McCleavy (Nicholas Hormann), and from Fay, the nurse of the recently deceased Mrs. McCleavy (Elizabeth Arends), whose string of elderly husbands have all met with strange deaths immediately after the weddings. And, of course, she has set her sights on the uber-religious widower McCleavy as her next wealthy victim. But in the meantime, a girl has her needs, which Fay has been satisfying under the sheets with Dennis, who also happens to be enjoying liaisons with Hal.

While hiding it as best they can within the one room when they are confined, Fay discovers the plot and manages to claim a cut of the proceeds by helping the boys. Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity After all, aligning with the two will certainly assist her in getting what she wants - her next husband and more money. The trio finally place the body in a large white bag, which they comically attempt to stuff into a wardrobe closet. But soon a knock at the door brings in Inspector Truscott (Odyssey favorite Ron Bottitta stealing the spotlight in his trenchcoat and pipe ala Sherlock Holmes), who is hot on their heels and searching for the stolen loot. As the plan to bury the loot quickly begins to unravel, hilarity ensues.

No doubt the representation of the inept Inspector Truscott stems in part from the inspiration Orton Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity drew from an infamously brutal and law-breaking officer of the time: Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant Harold Challenor, who career was ostensibly successful with hundreds of arrests and over a dozen commendations. However, allegations of brutality, forced confessions, planted evidence, and increasingly erratic behavior attributed to Challenor are certainly reflected in Truscott's unpredictability, psychopathic tendencies, violence toward suspects, and ruthless ability to frame an innocent man. The truth under the laughter is ever-present thanks to Orton's rapid-fire writing style.

Kudos to costume designer Michael Mullen who offsets the streetwise, Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity Cockney Dennis in sexy suspenders that beg snapping by several characters to the lovely black dress with a peek-a-boo kelly green lining, worn with great style by Arends as Fay while in mourning. Set designer Keith Mitchell manages to provide adequate hiding places both in sight and behind a screen, while lighting designer Christine Ferriter and properties designer Josh La Cour add to the play's overall merriment.

LOOT is the perfect play to open the Odyssey's "Circa '69" season since Orton contributed to an exciting working-class youth culture that swept through the nation in the mid-60s. His first success, Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity the radio play "Ruffian on the Stair," broadcast in 1964, ushered in a run of successes, including "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" in 1964, "Loot" in 1965 and the ever-popular "What the Butler Saw" written in 1967, all shocking and unconventional entertainments that examined moral corruption, authoritarian abuse and hypocrisy. Nothing is safe from Orton's savage wit, whose targets include religion, social attitudes towards death, police brutality and corruption, and everything in between.

Performances of LOOT take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 10 (dark July 19-21), Review: Joe Orton's Dark Comedy LOOT Satirically Examines Societal Stupidity with several additional weeknight performances scheduled at the Odyssey Theatre, located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. Tickets range from $32-$37 with discounts available at select performances for seniors, students and patrons under 30. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.

Photo credit: Enci Box

Regional Awards


From This Author - Shari Barrett

Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in secondary sc... (read more about this author)


Interview: Writer/Director Catherine Butterfield on the World Premiere of TO THE BONE Presented by Open Fist Theatre CompanyInterview: Writer/Director Catherine Butterfield on the World Premiere of TO THE BONE Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company
September 26, 2022

Open Fist Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of To the Bone, a darkly funny comedy about family, baseball, and genetics, written and directed by Catherine Butterfield. The play centers on sisters Kelly Moran and Maureen Dugan from the 'Irish Riviera' south of Boston, where they were known as 'hard girls' back in high school. And since the adage says that it's better to write about the things you know, I decided to ask Catherine Butterfield about how much of her own personal life is reflected in the play and what it's like to write and direct it herself.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODYInterview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY
September 23, 2022

Carla Ching is among the first three recipients to win the Los Angeles New Play Project Award, which supports playwriting and producing in smaller Los Angeles theaters. Her new play, Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body, opening September 23 at The Pico, directed by Bernardo Cubría for Ammunition Theatre Company, was originally developed as part of the 2021 Ammo Writers' Lab. It takes a very public look into the private lives of people who hurt the ones they love most, and how or if revenge should be taken to offset the pain. I decided to speak with Carla Ching about the play and how it was developed for its world premiere.

Interview: Bart DeLorenzo on Directing Richard Eyre's Adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's GHOSTSInterview: Bart DeLorenzo on Directing Richard Eyre's Adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's GHOSTS
September 7, 2022

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is presenting the Los Angeles premiere of what may be Henrik Ibsen's most controversial play, Ghosts, adapted by acclaimed British director Richard Eyre and directed by Bart DeLorenzo, a Los Angeles-based theater director and producer who is the founding artistic director of the Evidence Room theater, a 17-year-old company renowned in Los Angeles for contemporary theater productions. I decided to speak with Bart about what led him to direct this new adaptation at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.

Interview: Katelyn Schiller and Nick Rheinwald-Jones on Their Immersive Interactive DRAGON SHOW: THE EXTENDED TAILInterview: Katelyn Schiller and Nick Rheinwald-Jones on Their Immersive Interactive DRAGON SHOW: THE EXTENDED TAIL
September 7, 2022

Dragons... fairies... knights... enchanted meadows... spooky caves... all part of an immersive experience into your favorite childhood fantasies in Spy Brunch's site-specific adventure, Dragon Show: The Extended Tail. Filled with original songs and a memorable cast of characters, just 12 audience members will be admitted into each performance to enjoy the kind of intimate and memorable experience that immersive theatre delivers best. As a true fan of the genre, how could I resist a production such as this? So, I decided to speak with Katelyn Schiller and Nick Rheinwald-Jones, writers/producers/directors from Spy Brunch to find about more about them and the creation of their immersive fantasy world.

Interview: Michael A. Shepperd on Taking on a Dual-Race Double Role in VALLEY SONGInterview: Michael A. Shepperd on Taking on a Dual-Race Double Role in VALLEY SONG
August 25, 2022

VALLEY SONG by South African master playwright Athol Fugard is two-actor, three-character play in which Michael A. Shepperd takes on the roles of Abraam Jonkers, a mixed- race old man who has been a pumpkin farmer his entire life, and The Author, a White man who wants to buy the land where Abraam lives and works, potentially leaving him homeless. And since these roles were originally doubled by Fugard himself, I decided to speak with Michael A. Shepperd about preparing for such a challenging artistic endeavor.