The macabre, black comedy "Loot" highlights Joe Orton's ability to incorporate bizarre, well-structured farce with bursts of violence and utterly sophisticated, comic dialogue. Along the way it skewers such societal icons as religion, law enforcement and polite society. This Blank Theatre production, staged by Daniel Henning, is so careful in its desire to capture every nuance of Orton's unique point of view that many of the playwright's most outrageous farcical elements are slowed down despite some outstanding performances. Set in 1966 England, the action centers on the efforts of staunchly upstanding Roman Catholic widower McLeavy (Lenny Wolpe) to bury his recently deceased wife. Impeding his attempts are a host of self-serving friends, family and civil servants. No sooner is the lady in the coffin when the wife's nurse, Fay (Carmen Thomas), begins scheming to be the next Mrs. McLeavy. And it seems that McLeavy's son Hal (David O'Donnell), has a better use for mum's coffin: as a hiding place for the loot he and funeral home attendant Dennis (Tyler Baker) recently appropriated from the bank adjoining the mortuary.

Confounding everyone’s plans is ever-present police inspector Truscott (Peter Van Norden).

Henning expertly guides his ensemble through all the subtlety and innuendo of Orton’s dialogue. What is lost is the sense of manic urgency that must swirl around the much put-upon McLeavy in order for the farcical elements to take off. There simply are too many meaningful glances and knowing looks. What is needed is more action.

Wolpe’s characterization as McLeavy cannot be faulted. He is the epitome of the good soul who cannot comprehend why, in his ordered, God-fearing, law-abiding world, things are not going the way they are supposed to. His constantly befuddled reactions to the craziness about him is the most comically rewarding aspect of the production.

Also deserving praise is Van Norden’s scenery-gnashing, larger-than-life portrayal of Truscott. Van Norden quite believably communicates the unscrupulous policeman’s nonchalant propensity for violence and comical ability to manipulate any fact or situation.

Thomas’ morbidly unemotional Fay exudes the requisite physical allure but her painstakingly measured delivery proves to be a constant stopgap to the intended comedy. O’Donnell’s Hal and Baker’s Dennis are seldom in synch with the flow of the action and appear self-conscious in communicating Orton’s homosexual innuendoes.

Alex Grayman’s sets and Jonathan T. Hagans’ lights provide a fine environment for the onstage action.


Blank Theatre Co. Hollywood; 49 seats; $22 top

  • Production: The Blank Theatre Co. presents a comedy in two acts by Joe Orton; director, Daniel Henning; sets, Alex Grayman
  • Crew: Lighting, Jonathan T. Hagans; sound design, Rick Baumgartner. Opened May 17, reviewed June 15, 1997; runs through Aug. 3. Running time: 2 hrs., 20 min.
  • Cast: Cast: Lenny Wolpe (McLeavy), Carmen Thomas (Fay), David O'Donnell (Hal), Tyler Baker (Dennis), Peter Van Norden (Truscott), Stoney Westmoreland (Meadows).
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