At the end of this 1964 play by Joe Orton, after hard-edged sexual shenanigans and a brutal homicide, one character remarks: “Well, it’s been a pleasant morning.” At the curtain of the Roundabout’s new off- Broadway revival, directed by Scott Ellis, one could observe: “Well, it’s been a pleasant evening.” Perhaps too pleasant: the perverse chill that a first-rate production can cause is sometimes missing here.
One cannot fault the cast. As the title character, a 20-year-old piece of rough taken as a lodger by a middle-aged spinster outside London, Chris Carmack may lack menace but certainly looks the part – the cynosure of a household’s collective libido. As the landlady, Kath, Jan Maxwell may appear two decades older than the character’s stated age, 42, but her motherly seductiveness is pitch- perfect. Richard Easton shuffles along with suitable gruffness as her “Da-da” and, as Kath’s brother Ed, Alec Baldwin – probably the only American star capable of executing a limp-wristed twit as crisply as a pistol- packing thug – gives us a slick-haired British businessman that veers at times towards Saturday Night Live sketch comedy yet is suitably polished.
The physical aspect of the revival is also difficult to fault. The worn nature of Da-da’s woollies next to the crisp leather of Mr Sloane’s trousers evokes the moment when postwar blandness evolved into Swinging Sixties peacockery. And the figurines hanging below the sitting-room ceiling, porcelain like Mr Sloane’s frequently exposed skin, slyly indicate the fragility of the morals that Orton is sending up. Meanwhile, the play itself retains its startling tone – the bizarre made mundane.
The effect of the revival is, however, too American. It is not a matter of aping British accents; it is one, rather, of re-creating a sense of middle-class principles: of social context. Without that, both Orton’s humour and his potency are a little tame.
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