SACRED FOOLS | MAINSTAGE 2008 - What the Butler Saw

Sex, Lies and Cross-Dressing Brits collide
in the original and uncensored version of...

"I'm not mad.  It only looks that way."

The director of LA BETE, ACT A LADY and
you this classic, hilarious, subversive farce.

JANUARY 25 - MARCH 1, 2008
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
PREVIEW!  Thursday, January 24 @ 8pm

Tickets: $20
Reservations: (310) 281-8337
or Buy Tickets Online!

- map to the theater -

Dr. Prentice
Mrs. Prentice
Geraldine Barclay
Nicholas Beckett
Dr. Rance
Sergeant Match

Carl J. Johnson
Carolyn Hennesy
Kelsey Ann Wedeen
Joe Hendrix
Peter Altschuler
David Gueriera

Be Advised: This play contains nudity, sexual
shenanigans, dishonesty, and bad things
happening to good people - and therefore,
regrettably, cannot be recommended for children.

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Set Design

Costume Design
Wigs Design

Lighting Design
Sound Design
Stage Manager
Dialect Coaches

Assistant Director
Graphic Design

Dan Mailley &
  Christopher Goodson
Tera Struck
Joel Scher &
  Kelsey Wedeen
Brandon Clark
John Sylvain
Mark McClain Wilson
Carlo Pittaluga
Lisa Anne Nicolai
Kerry Ann Smith &
  Jaime Palmer
Amanda D'Angelo
Kiff Scholl
Noel Balacuit
Elspeth Weingarten
Dan Wingard


When the reputable Dr. Prentice takes a more seductive than medical approach to interviewing an aspiring secretary, his botched seduction leads inevitably to comic bedlam involving his insatiable wife, a randy bellhop, a befuddled police officer and, ultimately, the formidable manhood of Sir Winston Churchill.

Presented in the original, unbowdlerized British edition rarely seen in this country!


BackStage West

Clothes off, clothes on, rapid exits and entrances, mistaken identities, deftly delivered dialogue -- this show has it all. The prodigiously funny Carolyn Hennesy reigns over a capable cast in Joe Orton's unexpurgated British version of his oft-performed black comedy. The laughs are steady, and Orton leaves few institutions off his list as he pokes fun at marriage, sex, gender, psychiatry, and government bureaucracy. Orton's intent was for the audience to be insiders, watching the action as a butler might. Helmed by skilled director Kiff Scholl, this production starts off with a bang, and it has wit enough to match some of Shakespeare's best comedic tricks.

The play opens in the psychiatric office of Dr. Prentice (Carl J. Johnson) as he is interviewing a secretarial candidate, Geraldine Barclay (Kelsey Wedeen). An ingenuous blonde, she follows Prentice's directions to undress and be thoroughly examined. Prentice's wife (Hennesy) arrives unexpectedly, and from this starting point, an ever-spiraling series of improbable events takes place that include a visiting government inspector (Peter Altschuler), who is monitoring "the madness"; a bellhop (Joe Hendrix), who arrives with a set of pornographic photos from his liaison with Mrs. Prentice; and a London bobby (David Gueriera) who is investigating the disappearance of a concrete priapus severed by explosion from a statue of Winston Churchill.

Hennesy, sporting an enormous black beehive hairdo, manages to register surprise, shock, disdain, or elegant superiority with studied hilarity. It's hard not to monitor her reactions, even when she is not central to the scene. Johnson is suitably beleaguered as the husband trying to cover up his deeds, and Hendrix, Altschuler, and Gueriera enliven the proceedings. Wedeen is perfect, as her interview turns into a slapstick nightmare.

The production does justice to Orton's dry and irreverent satire. Though some humor is directed at British audiences, there are enough crazies in America for the jokes to ring true here as well.

--Melinda Schupmann
© 2008 BackStage West

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L.A. StageScene

“Doctor, help me! I keep seeing naked men!”
“From now on, we shall never have sex except in a linen cupboard.”
(Two of my favorite lines from What The Butler Saw.)

Imagine a play which deals with and/or features (in alphabetical order) depravity, disguises, gender identity, the government, hanky-panky, hermaphroditism, homosexuality, incest, insanity, marriage, mistaken identities, nymphomania, pederasty, psychiatry, rape, religion, reunited orphan siblings, slapstick, and transvestitism. Imagine this play being one of most laugh-out-loud outrageous and uproarious farces ever. Now imagine this farce having been written by a gay Englishman at a time when homo-sex was still a criminal offense in his native land. No wonder London audiences booed Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw when it was first staged there in 1969, 2 years after the playwright’s death.

Orton’s final play remains as outrageous and over-the-top in 2008 as it was 40 years ago, but (thankfully) society has changed and so too has the reaction to What The Butler Saw. What once provoked boos now elicits audience guffaws, cheers, and critical acclaim as Sacred Fool’s current revival so richly illustrates.

For once there will be no play synopsis here, for two reasons. First, because to even begin to describe the intricacies of Orton’s plot would simply take up too much space. Secondly, because half the fun of What The Butler Saw is in the element of surprise. (For those interested in a synopsis, however, there is a detailed one which Chicago’s Court Theater has graciously posted online. Click here for a preview of the mayhem and madness of What The Butler Saw or, if you’ve already seen the Sacred Fools’ production, to test yourself on how much you remember.)

Suffice it to say that the cast of characters is as follows:

• Dr. Prentice, head of a Mental Health Clinic whose purpose “isn’t to cure, but to liberate and exploit madness,” and who, by the play’s end, has been accused of being “a transvestite, fetishist, bisexual murderer.”
• Mrs. Prentice, the good doctor’s wife. “You were born with your legs apart,” the doctor tells her. “They'll send you to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin.”
• Geraldine Barclay, from the Friendly Faces Employment Bureau, applying for the position of secretary at Dr. Prentice’s clinic, who can take shorthand at a remarkable 20 words a minute, though she hasn’t yet mastered the typewriter keyboard
• Nicholas Beckett, a pageboy at the Station Hotel who engages in sexual intercourse with hotel guests for the purposes of blackmail
• Dr. Rance, a Government inspector whose visit to Dr. Prentice’s clinic convinces him that “We’ve phallic worship under our noses, or I’m a Dutchman.”
• Sergeant Match, a policeman baffled by all of the above

Like any screwball farce worth its money, What The Butler Saw features fast-paced dialog, countless entrances, exits, and crossed and uncrossed paths, mistaken identities, and last minutes surprise twists. Sacred Fools’ crackerjack production also features brief flashes of nudity (one pair of breasts and one penis). Since the play was written by a man of the homosexual persuasion, gay audience members (and women) get the longer stick (no pun intended).  Cheesecake is fleeting, whereas the pageboy and the bobby appear in their undies for extended periods of time, one of them in jockey shorts and the other wearing naught but a jock strap. By the end of the production, most of the cast has either cross-dressed, worn someone else’s clothes and/or a straitjacket, or appeared naked.

One of the best reasons to see a Joe Orton play is his droll, quotable dialog, sort of what a bawdier, more contemporary Oscar Wilde might have written. Here are just a handful of examples:

--He attempted to rape me.
--Did he succeed?
--Oh, the service in these hotels is dreadful.

--He might go insane.
--This is a mental home. He couldn’t pick a better place.

--Lunatics are melodramatic. The subtleties of life are wasted on them.

--You can't take lovers in Asia! The air fare would be crippling.

--Is it policemen or young boys you're after? At your age, it's high time you came to a decision.

Director Kiff Scholl (assisted by Amada D’Angelo) knows that to have a successful farce, the staging must be fast and furious, and that the cast he assembles must have flair, razor-sharp timing, and be totally committed to the author's intentions. Scholl's staging is indeed fast and furious, and although one or two of the cast members seem still slightly unsure of their lines, the show is filled with memorably over-the-top performances.

In fact, in Tera Struck’s 60s costumes and Joel Scher and Kelsey Wedeen’s wigs, many of the characters get laughs just coming onstage, among them Wedeen herself, as Geraldine, with her permanent wide-eyed slightly blank stare, an adorable way of flicking back her very long, very blonde hair whilst removing her stockings, and a touch of Audrey Hepburn in her voice. As Mrs. Prentice, the award-winning Carolyn Hennesy sports a black beehive a foot high, 60s black eyeliner, and a dry, sophisticated delivery that makes even throwaway lines funny. Carl J. Johnson’s Dr. Prentice comes across so sincere of heart that he manages to make the good doctor’s lechery seem harmless, and shows a gift for physical comedy in a scene in which he must frantically hide Geraldine’s shoes. Peter Altschuler portrays Dr. Rance with a face of constant disapproval, and the ability to give a instantaneous and detailed diagnosis completely un-based in fact, like a medical Sherlock Holmes who gets everything completely wrong. Joe Hendrix’s innocent expression hides quite the scheming Nicholas, and he is very funny as when Orton’s script dresses him in full drag, hairy legs and all. David Gueriera, as the daffy Sergeant Match, is a fine comic and especially good sport in a hilarious sequence requiring him to do physical comedy with drug stiffened limbs, wearing only the previously mentioned jock strap.

Dan Mailley and Christopher Goodson’s excellent pink and green toned set looks like a bit of Miami transported to England. Brandon Clark’s props, and John Sylvain’s lighting, and Mark McLain Wilson's sound design are likewise first rate.

After their hugely successful production of Drood: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this terrific revival of Joe Orton’s most controversial, risqué, and deliciously shocking farce means that the theater is on a British roll, and theatergoers not easily shocked will likely be spreading the word about What The Butler Saw for weeks to come.

--Steven Stanley
© 2008 L.A. StageScene

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