Story: Kath is smitten with her prospective new tenant, Mr. Sloane. He’s tall, dark and handsome, just the type of lad that middle-aged Kath says she could ‘mother.’ He reminds her of what her own son might be like had she known him. Her son was born out of wedlock, though, and Kath’s brother Ed sent him off to an adoption agency many years ago.
Kath’s decision to rent a room to Mr. Sloane doesn’t set well with her father, Kemp. The old man thinks that he recognizes the slick young hustler as the man who brutally murdered Kemp’s boss a few years back. His eyesight is failing, though, and his mind wanders, so Kemp isn’t taken seriously by Kath.
Mr. Sloane also comes under the scrutiny of Ed, who’s estranged from his father but nonetheless pops in regularly to stir the pot. After initial skepticism, Ed warms to Mr. Sloane, so much so that he hires him as his personal chauffeur. Ed says that he has plans for the renter, and so apparently does Kath, who makes herself pliable and available for the attractive young man.
Will Mr. Sloane sidle up with Kath or, maybe, with Ed? And what about Kemp? Is he daffy, or in imminent danger from the mysterious renter who calls himself an orphan but is vague about his past? Someone might get hurt.
Highlights: Entertaining Mr. Sloane was written by the late English playwright Joe Orton nearly half a century ago, but HotCity artistic director Marty Stanberry says that Orton’s first full-length play “is a perfect HotCity show…that pushes the limits of comedy, sex and violence.”
So it does. Written in 1964, three years before the openly gay Orton’s lover bludgeoned him to death, Entertaining Mr. Sloane is as dark and dangerous as it is quirky and funny. Director Bill Whitaker artfully conveys both aspects in HotCity’s mischievous and mirthful rendition of a tale that remains contemporary.
Other Info: Scenic designer C. Otis Sweezey fills Kath’s home -- set next to a rubbish dump, the only testament to a moribund community that never got beyond construction of its first house -- with a gallery of traditional paintings of Paris and other cities, comfortable if slightly worn furniture and drab walls in need of fresh paint. Zoe Sullivan fills her sound design with the brackish strains of early ‘60s jazz and pop melodies, while Meg Brinkley adds some clever touches with her properties, including a table that contains a radio.
Sean Savoie’s lighting underscores the show’s lighter moments as much as its more disturbing elements, and Becky Fortner’s costumes add to the merriment with Kath’s scanty outfits that just keep “falling off” as well as Mr. Sloane’s tight pants and Ed’s working-world suit.
Orton’s writing has a menacing undertone that grows stronger as the play develops, even if the pacing of the occasionally tedious second act lags behind the biting comedy of the first. Whitaker’s quartet of players is equal to the task of delivering the playwright’s skewered dialogue, resulting in an evening full of surprises delectably developed.
Lavonne Byers has the accent and the attitude of the aimless Kath. She drapes her lustful desires for the young tenant with twisted references about ‘mothering’ him, all the while moving forward with her plans for sexual conquest. Byers’ Kath is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and yet she proves a worthy adversary to Ed when the situation gets ticklish.
Michael James Reed brings plenty of bluster as well as crass, calculated desire to the role of Ed. How Ed conveys what he wants without saying it directly is one of the marks of distinction in Orton’s style, which surely owes some recognition to Oscar Wilde. Reed deliciously brings out the oafish qualities that make Ed a dangerous man in his own right.
Bill Grivna has a grand time as Kemp, who’s refused to communicate with his son since he caught the latter “committing a felony in the bedroom” when he was a lad of 17. Grivna displays Kemp’s crotchety persona as much with his halting steps and flailing cane as with his curmudgeonly demeanor.
As the title character, Paul Cereghino ably conveys both the charm and the psychopathic inclinations of the mysterious tenant, who’s basically out to get as much as he can for as little as possible.
Orton died shockingly and suddenly in 1967 at the age of 34. He left behind, though, several works that continue to sizzle with the ensuing years, including the predatory and arresting Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Under Whitaker’s assured direction, HotCity makes good with Orton’s evil ways.
Play: Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Company: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Building, 501 North Grand
Dates: September 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 289-4063 or hotcitytheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Todd Studios