By Joe Orton; Directed by Craig Smith
Produced by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble
Off Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 5.14.17
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street
by Eleanor J. Bader on 5.7.17
Matt Baguth in Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
BOTTOM LINE: A grim dramedy about the impact of an alluring young man on one grotesquely dysfunctional family.
If we’re truly judged by the company we keep, the four people in Joe Orton’s (1933-1967) Entertaining Mr. Sloane are in deep doo-doo. Suffice it to say that there’s no one here you’ll want to snuggle up to or even get to know. Kath, played with coquettish, if seductively creepy, charm by the talented Elise Stone, is a deeply unhappy 41-year-old who is the primary caretaker of her elderly father, Kemp (John Lenarz). Her slimy and controlling brother Ed (Antonio Edwards Suarez) is a successful businessman, and although the nature of his lucrative enterprise is never revealed, he seems to drip with nouveau riche affectation. What’s more, the family dynamic has been fraught for ages, ever since DaDa discovered Ed “committing a felony in the bedroom” several decades earlier. The two have not spoken since.
On top of this, Kath and Kemp’s home—scenic designer Tony Mulanix has created a cozily cluttered hodge-podge of antiques, lamps, and bric-a-brac that includes a ceramic elf—is located adjacent to a garbage dump. A ceiling-high mountain of filled-to-bursting plastic bags surrounds this oasis, giving it the appearance of an isolated valley in the midst of hell.
It’s a setting most of us would quickly run from. But that’s not what happens in Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Indeed, when Mr. Sloane (Matt Baguth), a comely 20-year-old with an infectious grin and a body-builder’s physique, meets Kath at the local library, he presumably doesn’t give a second thought to accepting an invitation to move into her home. And herein lays the problem with the play.
Although Sloane likely has an ulterior motive for accepting Kath's offer, making the encounter less coincidental than it seems, this is never made explicit. It’s a glaring deficit since it stretches credibility that a gorgeous young stud would agree to settle into a house on the edge of nowhere and willingly fall into a relationship with a needy, over-bearing woman. After all, not only is she twice his age, but she calls him “boy” and demands that he call her “mama. ” Add Ed, who also wants a piece of Sloane, and you’ve got a horrific family tableau.
Although Entertaining Mr. Sloane has been reprised numerous times since Orton’s 1967 murder, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s production is particularly disquieting. Under Craig Smith’s direction, the show features four wholly unsympathetic characters, all of them enmeshed in untenable situations from which there is no escape. It’s skin-crawlingly cringe-inducing, and while there is abundant dark humor in the play, the take-away is far more unsettling than it is entertaining.
(Entertaining Mr. Sloane plays at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, through May 14, 2017. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 8; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25 and are available at PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org or by calling 212-352-3101.)
Entertaining Mr. Sloane is by Joe Orton. Directed by Craig Smith. Production Stage Manager is Claudia Rivera. Assistant Director is Karen Case Cook. Vocal Coach is Josh Moser. Fight Choreography is by Greg Pragel. Scenic and Lighting Design are by Tony Mulanix. Sound Design and original music are by Ellen Mandel. Costume Design is by Debbi Hobson. Video Design is by Kerem SmithStone.
The cast is Matt Baguth, John Lenarz, Antonio Edwards Suarez, and Elise Stone.