Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Tops from Flops
What the Butler Saw is similar to Orton's other two plays, perhaps a little angrier, but better crafted. Where Loot shows a few seams from re-writes in the polishing phase, this play is practically a masterpiece in its writing. I would describe it as farce meets social commentary. Twice in its second act we get a few minutes of out and out farce: doors slamming, mistaken identities, etc. When this happens it just reminds me how much more than simply farce the whole play is.
Dog Days would seem to be the perfect company for this play, which requires almost perfect acting technique as well as a director capable of real crispness in its presentation. With access to the well-schooled actors coming out of Asolo Conservatory and its director Greg Leaming adoring this genre, well Yahtzee and Double Yahtzee. One of the high-speed bumps needed to be navigated is just presenting the rather wordy text clearly, without unnecessary pauses. It needs to seem to be delivered fast, but it also needs to be understood. Only a couple of minor slips could be heard on opening night, and the recovery was so fine that I wondered how many in the audience might not have even been aware of them. With its strong element of farce, the play also poses extremely physical challenges, and all are met brilliantly.
David Kortemeier returns to Dog Days after a fine performance last year in the inaugural Relatively Speaking, to play Dr. Prentice. The good doctor is the anchor of this playwell sort of. He is the engine that has to stay on the tracks as all the other cars go flying off. His character has to more or less retain his sanity. Suffice it to say, he holds the play together gloriously. Ned Averill-Snell is Dr. Prentice's polar opposite, Dr. Rance, an inspector from the British government. His character gets to react full-out to the mayhem going on around him. Averill-Snell's resume lists several classic theater roles in and around the Tampa area. I hope to expand my reviewing territory, to catch him in something again.
Jillian Cicalese, a second year student at Asolo Conservatory induces me to publicly vow not to miss any of their productions this season, where these students are featured. She delightfully inhabits the role of Geraldine Barclay, a woman who interviews for Dr. Prentice's secretary early on. She shows great potential as a physical comedienne, and I can't wait to see other aspects of her talents. Nolan Hennelly plays Nicholas Beckett, who enters into our story on a rather subdued note, but becomes yet another supercharged crazy. I'm wondering if there might be something in the water? Wes Tolman contributes an effective performance as Sergeant Match, but this is not the play's showiest role.
I've saved the best for last, although everyone is so phenomenally good that "best" loses its stature. Summer Dawn Wallace plays Mrs. Prentice and dominates every moment she is on stage. I want to put this in perspective before I say what I am about to say. Ms. Wallace is an extremely valued member of the Sarasota Theater Community, Co-Artistic Director of Urbanite Theatre, where she frequently directs, and has given some vivid performances, several of which are resonating in my mind at this moment. (One of them is the recent production of Women Laughing Alone with Salad.) This is the finest performance I have seen from her, topping many other wonderful portrayals. Brava!
Great acting performances do not happen out of nowhere, and this is especially true of comedy and farce. Greg Leaming's directing is brilliant. Scenic design, on a budget by Steven Kemp, is highly effective, the costumes by David Kovach (busy man, he also has The Musical of Musicals still playing at freeFall in St. Petersburg to his credit) are a wonder, in that several of them are required to fit more than one of the actors. Lighting design by Nick Jones and sound design by Alex Pinchin more than get the job done. Marlene Whitney is in charge of the properties, obviously important in a knockabout comedy. In a production that has to be physically perfect, Dog Days has gone to the venerable Marian Wallace to stage manage. This seems like a great time to tip a hat to her years and years of superlative work. Two Asolo pros whose major contributions to countless productions have lifted them into the theatrical stratosphere, do so again. Michelle Hart's wig design is, well I'm sitting here without an adjective to describe it. The wig for Mrs. Prentice is a major part of Ms. Wallace's portrayal. Voice and dialect coach Patricia Delorey is responsible for the decent English accents as well as being able to understand the wordy text.
One caution to Mr. Leaming: What the Butler Saw is very similar in style to Relatively Speaking, as is last season's Double Indemnity and this year's upcoming The Turn of the Screw. Urbanite has managed to program additional plays by playwrights they have had particular success with without getting bogged down in too much sameness. Please, vary it up more.
Wow and double wowit is hard to believe that this is way off season in Florida. I have been treated to so much can't-miss theater during the past couple of months, on both sides of the Skyway Bridge (Sarasota Manatee on one side, St. Petersburg on the other for those not familiar with the area). What the Butler Saw is most assuredly among them. The wait to see this play and finish my association with Joe Orton has been worth it. Comedy lovers, it doesn't get much better than this. Thank you Greg Leaming and Dog Days Theatre.
Dog Days Theatre's What the Butler Saw, through July 29, 2018, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit asolorep.org/dogdays.
Cast (in order of appearance):