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Attitude goes a long way in show business, and the cast of What the Butler Saw certainly embodied the idea of positive thinking. They combined wit and energy with a humorous dose of high-handedness to make this production outstanding.
Written by Joe Orton, What the Butler Saw describes the antics of a marginally professional psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice (Michael Mayo), who gets caught trying to seduce a prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay (Daniela Raz). The ensuing squabbles with his wife (Sarah Sidman) and mis-timed efforts to hide his adultery draw the promiscuous psychoanalyst into a frustrating cycle of cross-dressing and duplicity.
Declan Fox's set (Dr. Prentice's office), though crudely made, is rendered irrelevant by the Three's Company-style follies and riotous lines. Miss Barclay, undressed and trying to avoid detection by the Doctor's newly arrived (and distrustful) wife, is eventually caught by the power-hungry Dr. Rance (Sean Williford). This doctor sees Freudian symbolism in everything Miss Barclay does and diagnoses her insane.
Meanwhile, Dr. Prentice frantically struggles to unwind this mess. The plot thickens when Nicholas Beckett (Mark Mindich), the matter-of-fact porter from the Chamber Hotel, arrives and returns Mrs. Prentice's "newly cleaned" garments--the forgotten extras from a night of her own promiscuity. Mrs. Prentice is so over-sexed that her husband predicts, "she'll go to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin."
Director David McMahon did a magnificent job of organizing what could have been utter chaos. At times, characters were stranded on stage without any lines. McMahon covered up any potential awkwardness by providing alcoholic relief in the office--a frequent resort for characters who might have otherwise been stagnant.
Similarly, McMahon and the cast skillfully orchestrated the hectic hidings and costume-changes, fine-tuning the disorder. As Dr. Rance ran around searching for his newly "certified" lunatic, Dr. Prentice attempted to eject her from the compound and his suspicious wife tried to catch them all in the act. These well-acted hijinks sent the audience into laughter rather than confusion.
In the end, Ted Rose, playing Sergeant Match, manages to straighten out the various entanglements and bring this production to a conclusion worthy of Oscar Wilde. The outcome is, of course, happy--the Prentices discover that Miss Barclay and Mr. Beckett are their long lost children, and the family is reunited. Chock full of these incestuous twists, this production of What the Butler Saw remains one of strangest yet most cleverly staged plays of the spring.
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