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Loot at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 28 August 2009

So life has been rough lately, eh? You don’t know how bad it can get. Loot is a hoot—where the bad guys get away with . . . almost everything. Death, a funeral, and a bank heist—all are turned on their head.

Loot was written in 1966 by Joe Orten, a playwright of scandalous black comedies who became known for his “outrageously macabre” style. The storyline is nonsensical—à la Monty Python—taking pokes at society, government bureaucracy, and the Catholic church.

The play has a very “fresh” feel, partly due to the youthfulness of the actors. Director Jessica Holt is new to Masquers as well as much of the production staff, so the play doesn’t have the familiar, comfortable Masquers footprint.

The set, designed by Steve M. Vickers, is full of clever details. Visible before the play begins, the audience can ruminate on what they see before their attention is called away to action. The way in which the wall sections in the proscenium tuck up to the drapes is very neat. I particularly enjoyed the “lived-in” look of the walls on the set, though the crown moulding does seem a bit bizarre.

Possibly the Director paid attention to my rant about actors simulating accents which are not their own ( Gratefully, Dialect Coach Lauri Smith was engaged for this production. For the many folks who avoid plays with “foreign accents” because they’re unintelligible, Loot has fewer indecipherable bits than many.

The strikingly lovely Fay (Lyndsey Kail, photo and group photo, centre), long-limbed and enticingly shaped, captivates most members of the cast; I was all the way into the audience—removed from her ambit—and I was still entranced. (Photos by Jerry Telfer.)

But be careful, she doubles as a poisonous, man-eating spider—lustrous and tempting.

Nurse Fay occasionally casts a token nod to compassion—but it is veneer thin. Her child-like self-absorption soon shows her primary allegiance. Fay illustrates a zealot’s frequent predilection to justify all her desired actions by wrapping them in chapter and verse of her religion.

Dennis (Drew Ledbetter, group photo, left) is what the modern world might call a metrosexual, but I’ve always known as a pretty boy—a man blithely wandering through the world using his physical beauty as a currency. But Dennis is a bad boy as well—a dangerous man without brakes—the kind who’d make a girl’s parents cringe. Were I in my first youth, I’d’ve been fascinated. Like the intended prey of a snake.

Dennis is an undertaker with an attitude—dressed in the only real costume, with a tip of the hat to formality but mod all the same. He speaks, on occasion, in a suitably subdued voice as befits his profession, but we see his antics—we know he’s really enjoying himself. And so the audience wonders: is there nothing he won’t do?

Hal (Aaron Martinsen, group photo, right) is a cool, blade of grass who moves like he’s being rustled by the wind. He’s raised slouching to a fine art. He’s a pretty boy of a different flavour who gives new meaning to the idea that the boy next door is not quite who he seems.

While Hal is a slightly tatty, former alter boy, he retains but two traits from that strait-laced life—truth telling and the ability to look very innocent. He’s affable and compliant and very criminal. His notions about what to do with the money are mirth making. And, he devises an unusual pair of castanets. His fight scene is elegantly choreographed by Matt Cowell.

Meadows (Matt Stevens) has a brief onstage appearance as an upright policeman who captures the malefactor(s) and wrestles ‘em into handcuffs.

McLeavy (Peter Pinfield) is the only honourable man in the play. Unfortunately, he is not destined for greatness; it’s not that kind of play—the man just doesn’t show up well. Though at times I felt sympathetic toward him, at others, I felt as contemptuous of him as do his tormentors.

McLeavy is a handsome new-made widower whose face spends a lot of time screwed up in a believable paroxysm of grief. He is surprisingly normal, stiff knees and all.

McLeavy is full of amusing, rude remarks about his family alongside all the prejudices of a staunch Catholic. In a reasonable world, his conservative views might be sensible, but the Church gets lampooned in this play. In spite of his stuck-up pomp, I found Peter attractive—a perfect soupçon for a voyeuristic middle-aged reviewer.

Despite what he says, Truscott (Jim Fye) looks like a cop whose very movements insinuate fantasies of a Clouseau-esque inspector. Jim is the only actor in this performance I’ve seen before, and he presents a quite different character: an indifferent, government employee ponderously discharging his duties—what are for him penetrating deductions, and for us, the circumlocutions of a torturously illogical bureaucrat following the rules. Some people found this exceedingly funny. Unfortunately, the man was hot under the stage lights in all those layers, but your average inspector couldn’t really show up wearing less.

Jim’s presence becomes a target for attention-seeking watchers—his mobile, elastic face with his perfectly chiselled nose; his voice, the pipe antics, and swishes of the raincoat—all drew me in; my eyes often followed him around the stage. Jim is definitely a man to put on your watch list.

While I’m not enamored of the British humour style of comedy, or the targets of the playwright’s satire, Loot was fun. These six characters, the product of the collective creative genius of the entire production, are scintillating gems. They’re all gorgeous and vibrant.

Loot deserves a look-see.

How did you feel about the play? Comments are welcome.

Loot was performed Aug 21 - Sept 26, 2009, at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond, California. This review was also published in This Point In Time (TPIT), Vol. XXVIII-2, Sept 2009, a publication of the Point Richmond History Association.

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Well done, Theresa.

It is good that Masquers is branching out and including new directors and actors. The past two years have been generally strong. I do miss some well known faces.

As for accents, I missed two of apparently the funniest lines near the beginning.

I loved Peter Pinfield. I thought the cast was very strong. Fye was so villainous. The actors need to pace their dialog when the audience is laughing.

I was left wondering if Fye was the only one who saw any monetary gain since he walked off with the loot. What's to say he'll share it?

Like you I don't like this type of humor particularly. One friend LOVED it and thought it hilarious.

Theresa de Valence's picture

Anonymous, thanks muchly for your remarks (I'm sorry you didn't leave your name). I also still missed a few quips—but fewer than I have in many recent plays with "British" accents. The dialogue is so rapid in LOOT, one still has to keep one's ears finely tuned.

Yes, the actors were magnificent—it was a good play, eh!!

tamhas's picture

What's to say he'll share it?

I had the same reaction ... wondering why the three youngsters dreamed that he would give them any of it once he had it hidden. Not as if they could go to the police and say "I'm a bank robber and that cop took my money" without having their own problem.

But, frankly, there is a lot in this plot where it doesn't bear to look too close. Historically, I have been familiar with the problem of liking a play a great deal, but not being that enthusiastic about how well it was performed, but here I felt that I wasn't too sure about the play, but the performances were superb.

For the accents, I think there are two issues -- intelligibility and veracity. I have no history of having an issue with intelligibility, although I know that some people do ... heck, I even understand Taggert. But, it is often an issue whether or not accents sound like they belong to whom it is the people are supposed to be. In this play that was much better than usual, particularly Hal and his father.

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