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Back Stage Critics' Best of 2003 Lists
Best Direction - Sean Branney from T.H. McCulloh
Best Performance - Matt Foyer from T.H. McCulloh

Reviews for Theatre Banshee's What the Butler Saw


**CRITICS PICK**
WHAT THE BUTLER SAW

Almost a decade after his tragic death, critics finally woke up and proclaimed Joe Orton one of the greatest comic playwrights of the second half of the 20th century, following in the footsteps of Congreve and Wilde. Like both of those writers, Orton spoke for his age, with a glance that first looks illogical and outlandish, then makes an awful lot of sense. Like them, he's very epigrammatic and finds humor in sudden embarrassment of his characters. This is very true of all three full-length plays finished before Orton's demise, and especially so in his masterpiece, What the Butler Saw.

In his staging for Theatre Banshee, Sean Branney has a proper approach to this comedy, which pertains to all comedy. Play it straight as a drama, and the humor becomes infectious and intriguing, and finally—outrageous as the action might seem—it all appears so real it's stunning.

Dr. Prentice wants to hire a secretary, Geraldine, but is intent on seducing her beforehand and convinces her to strip so he can judge her value as a typist. It's a comic ploy that occurs throughout the play, with most of the characters, including a stupid policeman, readily disrobing for one reason or another. Suddenly Dr. Rance arrives, purportedly from the mental health commission, to examine Prentice. From Prentice's horny wife to the even hornier bellboy from the hotel where she spent the night, and where he had his wicked way with her in a broom closet, clothes, along with inhibitions and twisted propriety, are shed; cross-dressing to cover mistakes abounds, and it all appears as logical to the viewer as to the characters. Orton's kinky view of life doesn't seem that kinky after all.

The cast couldn't be more in tune with the author's and director's intent. Josh Thoemke as the randy, double-gaited bellboy Nick and Carolyn A. Palmer as the naïve secretary-to-be make adopted innocence as ludicrous as it usually is in reality. As the blunder-headed policeman Sergeant Match, John Jabaley beautifully turns officiousness into slight insanity, and the monumental, operatic blathering of Noah Wagner's Dr. Rance is just as absurd as it should be. The gems of the evening, though, are Matt Foyer's opaque Dr. Prentice and McKerrin Kelly's truly libidinous Mrs. Prentice; they sparkle with the honesty and reality that bring Orton's comic brilliance to its finest moments.

Back Stage West, Reviewed by T.H. McCulloh


What the Butler Saw
Pick of the Week

Theatrical artifice has too often been merely an excuse for mannered pretension, but playwright Joe Orton saw it as a scalpel for cutting through social conventions to reveal the lechery, anarchy and madness that lurk beneath. With lethal wit and a perverse imagination, he examined human frailties in his hilariously cynical comedies. When eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Prentice (Matt Foyer) attempts to seduce a pliant young woman (Carolyn A. Palmer) who’s applied for a position as his secretary, he unwittingly unleashes a series of bizarre events. Caught in the ensuing chaos are his nymphomaniac wife (McKerrin Kelly), a randy and rapacious hotel bellboy (Josh Thoemke), a conscientious but befuddled policeman (John Jabely), and a dangerously demented public-health investigator (Noah Wagner). They find themselves sedated, shot at, stripped of their clothes, declared insane, or accused of heinous crimes. The standard conventions of commercial farce are ruthlessly subverted. By emphasizing elegance and precision amid the mayhem, director Sean Branney effectively captures Orton’s comic vision of disenchantment, and his skillful cast stylishly rolls with the punches. Foyer and Kelly in particular blend lunacy and sophistication in as fine a production of Orton’s comic gem as we’re likely to see.

LA Weekly, Reviewed by Neal Weaver


Recommended: This Butler Does it for Orton

The measure of any production of Joe Orton is how well it moves, both through time and space. By that measure, director Sean Branney’s crackling new production of What the Butler Saw is a winner.

If it does sound and look a bit rough around the edges — strained diction here, a miscast actor there — Branney’s Butler does manage to build to a second-act crescendo of nihilistic chaos that’s debilitatingly, inexplicably funny.

By the time it reaches this particular point of no return — with people in various states of undress and intoxication slamming doors, screaming in shock and running about brandishing firearms — the show has thoroughly won us over to its brand of mutually assured dysfunction.

Heading the cast with grimacing good humor is Matt Foyer as Dr. Prentice, the psychiatrist whose relatively innocent attempt to get into the pants of a secretarial applicant (Carolyn A. Palmer) leads to a mountingly perverse series of misunderstandings, misdiagnoses and misbehavior.
Matching him in aplomb is McKerrin Kelly as his bed-hopping wife, who manages to alternate bouts of credulous surprise and knowing cynicism without losing track of her character.

Except for the beguilingly wide-eyed Palmer, the rest of the cast isn’t quite up to this level. As Dr. Rance, the voice of unreason from Her Majesty’s Government, Noah Wagner is a shade too grinningly conspiratorial and his accent gives him trouble. Josh Thoemke makes an acceptably deadpan hotel page and John Jabaley a sternly slow-witted copper.

Not even slow wits can stem this production’s headlong momentum. Orton’s world is always mad, bad and dangerous to know. Presented this vigorously, it’s also a revealingly guilty pleasure.

Los Angeles Times, reviewed by Rob Kendt


Butler Delivers in Comic Timing, Spirit

BURBANK — Theatre Banshee's "What the Butler Saw" is a high-spirited British farce delivered with impeccable comic timing in its run at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank.

While all six actors give outstanding performances, the clear star is playwright Joe Orton, bad boy of 1960s London theater. Mark Twain once wrote, "The difference between the perfect word and the almost perfect word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Orton has created an electrical storm of repartee with the accuracy of Shakespeare and the wit of Oscar Wilde. There is nary a butler to be found in this story of mistaken identity and sexual misconduct.

Its title derives from a nickelodeon peep show where, for a shilling, regular folk could peek into the secret, slightly racy world of the elite. Director Sean Branney of Glendale pulls no punches in his depiction of the tawdry underbelly of British aristocracy.

Matt Foyer stands out as the neurotic Dr. Prentice. And MacKerrin Kelly, as his wife, shows a real flair for comedy. The physical pratfalls and compromising positions the actors pull off are hilarious and choreographed to perfection.

Not one cue, verbal or physical, was missed. The dialogue is delivered with delightfully unrelenting speed and usually clearly understood. Unfortunately, Dr. Rance, played by Noah Wagner, tended to muffle his lines. A real shame because the part is so juicy.

The set was disappointingly sparse. Typical of a psychiatric clinic, but it could've used a vintage medical poster or two. All in all, this preposterous and joyous spoof of psychiatric academia is as appropriate today as it was 35 years ago and performed with a vitality rare in modern theater.

Glendale News Press, Reviewed by Lisa Dupuy


You’ve Got to See What the Butler Saw


Staging at the Gene Bua Theatre, located at 3435 W. Magnolia, in Burbank, is Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw through December 7th 2003.

Starring one of the funniest casts under one roof, Matt Foyer, John Jabaley, McKerrin Kelly, Carolyn A. Palmer, Josh Thoemke and Noah Wagner, this awesome crew has the capacity of kicking Butler to Broadway in no time flat!

Set in the 1960s, Dr. Prentice (Foyer) works in a British mental hospital. In dire need of a secretary, Prentice interviews cutie Geraldine (Palmer). However, besides the usual resume, Geraldine must prove to be fit enough to keep up with the doc’s “rigid regiment”. So, he requests she strip to be examined by... himself. No need for a nurse to be present.

But before the exam commences, the doc's wife (Kelly) unexpectedly bursts into the examination room to remind the doc of his shortcomings. From then on it’s every man and woman for themselves...

Butler is the wildest ride of a play that you will see this year. Even I could have used a nice padded cell to recoup after laughing myself silly!

Costume design by Laura Brody, lighting by Bobby Richar and scenic design by Arthur MacBride are tops!

Director Sean Branney has a Tony hit.

P.S. Don’t look for the Butler... there is none!!


WITH 'BUTLER,' THEATRE BANSHEE
SERVES ORTON WELL

Joe Orton should have lived to write more plays.

There, it's been said, even though it may invite a colossal “Well, duh!” from all corners. The world should have been left with more than Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw. The murder of Orton, by his lover Kenneth Halliwell in 1967, has proven to be a crime against artistry as well as the taking of a human life.

You realize what a genius imp Orton truly was when you get to see a theater company smartly tackling one of his plays. Dark farce should never appear strained or laborious, and the crackerjack ensemble undertaking What the Butler Saw for Theatre Banshee handles every comic indignity with a “Thank you sir, may I have another!” gusto.

Butler is, after all, a skewering of the British aristocracy, its medical establishment and a few other not-so-sacred cows. Unfortunate Sir Winston Churchill who is not a character in the play gets stripped of everything but his genitalia, and the playwright wraps things up in a fusion of Oscar Wilde-ian invention. Butler is a theft job of The Importance of Being Earnest. Quite naturally. Why not steal from the best?

A randy psychiatrist asks the secretarial candidate he is interviewing to remove her clothes and lay down on the operating table. The doctor's sex-starved wife arrives after a near encounter with a studly bellhop at a nearby hotel. A too-officious medical overseer pops in and tries to declare everybody insane. A police officer, while compliant, isn't much help.

Dresses are removed and re-donned — by both sexes. Articles of clothing are hidden. Drinks are consumed. Hair is hacked. Wigs are worn — by both sexes. Nobody actually has sex, but in director Sean Branney's lusty production for Banshee, a character can't enter a room without seeing someone appearing to be boffing someone else. There is no butler in What the Butler Saw. The title is a cheeky nod to an early nickelodeon show that gave viewers a peek at the randy behavior of the British upper crust.

Matt Foyer is defiantly eely as Dr. Prentiss, the shrink whose hormones set the plot wheels in motion. As his quarry, Geraldine Barclay, Carolyn A. Palmer stays unwaveringly perky as her character gets up through countless indignities. ``Is this the Candid Camera?'' she asks hopefully at one point. Sorry, darling, but no. Just an Orton assault.

Noah Wagner as the medical inspector Dr. Rance avoids the temptation to go bombastic. His Rance has a job to do, and he's not about to let trivial things like reality or misunderstandings get in his way.

The pace crackles, and the jokes fall with ease. Not one for the kids, but this production's a winner.

Los Angeles Daily News, reviewed by Evan Henerson


What the Butler Saw

Only a skewed genius the likes of the late Joe Orton could come up with a play where the title character doesn't even exist. Instead, the characters he creates are about as looney and offbeat as the wildest stretch of imagination can conceive. And then some.

Theatre Banshee is used to stretching the limits, so mounting Orton's play was a little like business as usual for this company whose last challenge, Red Noses proved to be a smash.

Anyone who has ever attempted a home building project can immediately appreciate the work and imagination of scenic designer Arthur MacBride, in creating the psychiatrist's consulting office, around which the action revolves.  Yes, it's unusual to mention the set designer at the top of the review, but his work is so excellent it merits top billing.  You'd swear you walked into a shrink's clinic, complete with exam bed, sink, and a  stern picture of Freud staring at the mad goings on from a wall behind the desk.

Don't get the wrong idea.  The actors, complete with their proper British accents, are a total hoot.  If you remember John Cleese in the former  TV Brit hit, Faulty Towers, you will definitely place these characters in the same category, especially Matt Foyer who plays the horny Dr. Prentice whose lustful advances towards new secretary Geraldine starts the madness.
 
Carolyn A Palmer gives lovely naive secretary Geraldine a genuine sense of innocence, as she willingly sheds her clothes thinking the good doctor is serious about checking her secretarial qualities.  The qualities he wants to check aren't measured in words per minute however, but just as he's about to start his probe, his wife walks in.

Mrs. Prentice has an unquenched sexual appetite and she seeks to drink from the fountain of any willing male who is up for the challenge.  This time it's a hotel bell hop whose ding- a-ling has succeeded in hopping her at the first ring.  He's also into blackmail, threatening her with exposure of photos of the event unless she comes up with cash.  While naked secretary Geraldine hides behind the curtain Dr. Prentice convinces the wife that the dress on the floor is hers.  She promptly dons it, leaving Geraldine with nothing to wear.  McKerrin Kelly has a great time playing the over-sexed ditzy wife, gullible and naive.

In walks Dr. Rance, a civil servant in charge of examining all psychiatric clinics.  Rance is, given to flights of fancy and imagination and he escalates a simple adulterous affair into an imagined murder spree, kidnapping, commitment to an asylum and even restraint with straight jackets.  All this time, Dr. Rance is blocking chapters for his book which will expose the darkest secrets of mental illness and its bizarre treatments, most of which require that patients remove their clothes.  Noah Wagner is in total control of the character, and the character is running the show.  It's a classic case where the second banana becomes as slick as the top one, and together they make for a super slippery comedy.

Every situation is more bizarre than the previous one, with people changing into each others clothes, taking clothes off, putting them halfway on, and when a cop becomes involved, it isn't long before he winds up removing his clothes also.

This clothes thing isn't the only comic line.  Dr. Prentice tries to convince the others that Nick, the bell boy is Geraldine, that Geraldine is a boy, that the cop was molested and with every explanation, Dr. Rance expands his theories of sexual repression, abuse, exploitation and lust, taking them to the farthest limits of sanity.  Never mind that they act so far over the top you need oxygen to breathe.  Never mind that they yell and scream their lines, and often wind up in compromising physical positions, quite by accident.  The audience howls, wondering how much farther they can go.

When you see a part of a statue of Winston Churchill, you know how far they'll go and then you realize how truly nuts these people can be.  Josh Thoemke brings up the naked rear as the bell hop who's not the sharpest tack in the box but is willing to do what he's asked, to resolve the problem.  John Jabaley plays the cop, also not firing on all cylinders, but willing to sputter along with Dr. Prentice's suggestions.

Eventually you learn where all this is going, and fortunately for the audience, there is a credible explanation that ties the whole thing together. About as credible as seeing almost everyone on stage take their final bow in their underwear.

And they say there's no culture in the Los Angeles area.

ReviewPlays.com, reviewed by Jose Ruiz

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