Loot Not Quite Priceless

In his brief life, Joe Orton wrote seven outrageously funny and frightening plays. A fierce critic of middle-class pretensions and propriety, he pushed the drawing-room farce to hysterical, disturbing limits.

Loot is one of his darkest creations painting a world where the bad guys win; where the Catholic Church, the police and even God can be had for a price; and where the only true crime is to have trust in the just nature of society. Orton makes all of this very funny with dialogue loaded with sexual innuendo and Wildean one-liners.

The Harvard-Radcliffe summer Theater's production of Loot, which features a beautiful set and some fine performances, lives up to the promise of the script in places. But the production is hampered by lackluster pacing and a few melodramatic touches that take the edge off Orton's satire.

Loot's macabre plot outraged many theatregoers when it premiered in 1966, and its gruesome take on death and filial love is still disturbing. The action revolves around the corpse of a pious Catholic housewife, Mrs. McLeavy, and the cash from a bank robbery.

Hal (Bryan E. Van Gorder), Mrs. McLeavy's unsentimental son, has no qualms about hiding the loot from his bank theft in his mother's coffin and stuffing her naked corpse into a bureau ("it's a Freudian nightmare," he comments offhandeldy). Hal's partner in crime and sometime lover is Dennis (Robert de Neufville), an undertaker's assistant whose Protestant upbringing has given him "every luxury--atheism, breast-feeding, circumcision."


Fay (Cori Lynn Peterson) is the dead woman's nurse who has been mysteriously widowed seven times ("Once a year on average since I was sixteen," she notes calmly). She has her eyes on the now-available Mr. McLeavy (John G. Knepper) and his fortune.


directed by David McMahon at the Loeb Experimental Theater

Through August 1

The Pivotal character is Inspector Truscott of Scotland Yard (Patrick Harlan), who invades the McLeavy house posing a an inspector from the Water Board . He is a typical Orton authority figure: corrupt and megalomaniacal, he has an insanely logical explanation for all his abuses of power.

Harlan does an excellent job of portraying Truscott as a sort of lunatic master of ceremonies, the most thoroughly ruthless character in Orton's thoroughly ruthless world. Harlan's intense Truscott, at once menacing and ridiculous, is an appropriate blend of Sherlock Holmes, a Keystone Kop and Adolf Hitler. His quick-paced style works especially well in some of the play's wittiest exchanges, such as when members of the household find Truscott snooping through their belongings:

Truscott: I've been having a look round your charming house. Poking and prying.

Hal: Have you search warrant?

Truscott: What for?

Hal: To search the house.