Is it possible for a play to be so tautly written and marvelously constructed that it can overcome a thoroughly lackluster production? In the case of the Red Bull Theater’s new Off Broadway revival of Joe Orton’s Loot — quite possibly the most audacious black comic farce of the 20th century — that titanium-strength durability is certainly put to the test. Director Jesse Berger’s misfire of a revival, playing through Feb. 9 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a keenly designed but woefully under-rehearsed production that ultimately does a disservice to one of the sharpest wits since Oscar Wilde.
Considered scandalous upon its original run for Orton’s sinister view of the role of British police, Loot has lost none of its libidinous, roll-in-the-mud outrageousness. The dark, farcical tale follows bank-robbing hoods Hal and Dennis (the game Nick Westrate and Ryan Garbayo) who, with the assistance of tarty nurse Fay (Rebecca Brooksher), attempt to smuggle their new wealth in and out of various compartments. The most famous is a coffin containing the remains of Hal’s recently deceased mum, who ends up crushed and folded more often than a dollar bill over the course of the two acts. Hal and Dennis’ plan is further complicated by the departed’s dotty husband (Jarlath Conroy), who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the rage-fueled man ”from the Water Board” (Rocco Sisto) intent on making the crooks sweat out every last moment.
Loot is designed to be a dart-sharp satire, with delectable bon mots in nearly every scene. (A personal favorite: ”Here — the Ten Commandments. She was a great believer in some of them.”) Berger’s production is far too tentative; the cast never immerse themselves deeply enough into the controlled mayhem. Sisto, typically reliable in character roles, went up on so many lines during my press preview that I was more afraid for his ability to recover rather than for his Inspector’s barely controlled rages. And Brooksher’s arch, winking accomplice never fully connects with her costars (or to us, as Orton explicitly has a character make reference to ”these three walls”). The only creaks one should ever hear in an astute production of this play are the ones of a telltale wardrobe cupboard that periodically opens. This Loot, unfortunately, could use a shot of WD-40. C