Americans—God help us—delight in the modern English farce. Plays by the likes of Alan Ayckbourn, Peter Schaeffer and Michael Frayn are ubiquitous on the stages of your typical Southern California professional theater company. No wonder: the Lettice and Lovages and Noises Offs of the world are usually big ticket-sellers.
What makes these plays special is their verbal wit. But English playwright Joe Orton's farces are more than witty and entertaining—they mercilessly skewer the greed and hypocrisy of British society. Loot, Orton's oft-produced 1965 comedy, is onstage at the renovated International City Theatre. And while Loot may very well fill the theater's new seats, Jessica Kubzansky's direction lacks the punch to make it a standout production. The cast does well with the physical comedy—everyone has a memorable sight-gagged entrance or two —but fumbles with Orton's nuanced dialogue: accents are off, vocal levels are lost, and there's a general lack of joy in the language.
This is a real shame, because Loot is more than just slapstick burlesque. The play involves preparations for the funeral of Mrs. McLeavy, who is survived by a group of avaricious schemers who, in true farcical fashion, are assembled in her house and wishing variously to usurp her last will and testament, cut costs on her burial, or hide stolen money in her coffin. Orton—himself an ex-convict—introduces a detective (Tom Shelton) who is so asinine we end up rooting for the criminals. Shelton's rendering is actually the bright spot of this production, illuminating Orton's suggestion that authority cannot be trusted. This is not to say that the rest of the cast is particularly bad. It's just that this rendition of Loot comes a little too close to reducing a pointed and well-crafted social critique into an evening of delightful and harmless English farce. Orton deserves better.
Loot at the International City Theatre at the Center Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Sept. 24. $25-$35.