Many will agree that, Gunther notwithstanding, there’s just not enough comedy at Yale. That being said, it’s a relief to just hear mention of Joe Orton’s dark comedy “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.” But this relief rather quickly turns to frustration, as the difficult play never reaches its full potential, despite admirably passionate performances by four of Yale’s senior actors.
If passion equaled success, the play would be a runaway hit, as the actors instill even the blandest one-liners with endless energy. In the role of Ed, the latently homosexual brother, Satya Bhabha ’06 channels his energy most effectively and humorously in absurd fits of rage and near orgasmic giggles. The other actors bring their own different forms of the same energy. While this is an interesting and engaging direction to take, it is more-often-than-not inconsistent with the macabre play, directed by Toni Dorfman, the director of undergraduate studies in theater.
Unmistakably Orton in nature, the play is his usual brand of sex, murder and disturbing intrigue. This was Orton’s formula for success, and he didn’t stray from it: he once wrote a play he proposed for the Beatles where they would dress in drag and seduce the niece of a priest. Needless to say, it was turned down based on indecency. Orton was perplexed: “I hadn’t used any foul language. I hadn’t gone as far as I could have.” In “Sloane,” he maintains this same level of “decency.”
“Sloane” centers around a psychologically mangled and disillusioned family. Rounding out Bhabha’s family are Josh Brody ’07 as Kemp (his father) and Natalie Paul ’07 as Kath (his sister). The middle-aged siblings have long repressed their loneliness and lunacy, but of course, this can’t last long. With the introduction of Mr. Sloane (Patrick Knighton ’06), the emotional dam is broken as the two siblings vie for his love. Ultimately, Mr. Sloane literally plays both sides and takes advantage of their emotional weaknesses, bringing destruction to the sycophants.
Comedy runs rampant throughout “Sloane,” but some of the literary comedy falls flat on stage. Partly due to over-exuberance, the actors often run over the subtlety and nuance of the show’s humor. In this sense, Knighton often falls victim to the vanity of his character, treating the fourth wall like a mirror. While some audience members may appreciate this attention from the youthful actor, his attention would be better served directed toward Ed and Kath — who are, after all, actually in the play. On all accounts, the audience is paid too much attention, to the detriment of inter-character chemistry.
This mirror complex is probably the biggest fault of the production, exhibited even in the set design. In the fictional living room, there is a sofa and chair set completely facing the audience. While this is a seemingly small design decision, it disrupts any connection between characters in the sofa and the chair — a problem underlying the production. Perhaps this is a comment on the lonely and deluded characters, but the commentary is not heard when the lack of connection speaks so strongly.
Equally distracting is the lack of consistency. In one scene Mr. Sloane is deeply stabbed in the leg, and yet five minutes later he’s magically recovered. In fact, there seems to be an extra swagger and bounce in his step. This and other inconsistencies add an extra, if not unfortunate, level of humor to the play.
Despite these faults, the performances are genuinely engaging and fun to watch. Ignoring the fact that Kath is supposed to be middle-aged, her youthful promiscuity provides a breath of fresh air. And ignoring the fact that Ed is supposed to be elderly and dying, his lively eccentricities provide appreciated light humor. But these allowances are hard to make, and hard to maintain throughout the show.
The production, which maximizes the Saybrook Underbrook theater’s small space, does not maximize the play’s potential. Instead of being one part dark, one part comedy, the production is approximately two parts dark, one part comedy and one unfortunate part inconsistency.