Following is a review of Benicia Old Town Theatre Group’s production of What the Butler Saw.
Mark and Wren run into each other at a coffee shop and talk about BOTTG’s current production.
M: Hey there!
M: Saw you at the theater last night.
W: Ah, so we both saw “What the Butler Saw”!
M: Yep. What did you think?
W: Fun! A little dated. But for a comedy from 1969, I thought it still had some shock value and memorable one liners.
M: That’s British farce, written to shock and titillate. Why the face?
W: I don’t know, that word just always bothers me.
M: What word, titillate?
W: Yes, that word. You don’t need to repeat it, thank you. Anyway, the play, go on...
M: I found the beginning confusing.
W: Ah, was Marky confused by the young beautiful female character taking off her clothes in the first scene? The guys hooting in the audience didn’t sound confused.
M: The plot, Wren, titillating though it was, was confusing . One ridiculous situation after another, obvious truths blatantly ignored for the improbable. Funny in a show. Not so funny in real life.
W: Hmm. Sounds like wisdom born of pain. You know, I think the playwright would have agreed with you.
M: Oh? How so?
W: Well, from what I read, Joe Orton was a rather flagrant homosexual and lived true to what he understood as his natural orientation. But Britain, at the time, was extremely intolerant of gays and, in keeping with the psychology of the day, such an orientation was considered a psychological disorder, likely caused by childhood trauma or abuse.
M: Sounds Freudian.
W: Exactly. So with What the Butler Saw, Orton targets Freudian psychology and sexual repression in general, for the harm they can do, and suggests, in his convoluted, humorous way, a healthier alternative: sexual liberation and
M: So, in his view, promiscuity could be a new modality for the healing arts.
W: Well, uh...no. I... I think he just wanted people to be free to openly embrace their true sexual orientation.
M: And their perversions.
W: Well, yeah, possibly.
M: Sounds like you’ve given this some thought.
W: Yeah, maybe not enough. (awkward pause) I was asked to write a review, see.
M: You’re not going to quote anything I say, or?
W: No! Course not!
M: Good. I was a little bummed there wasn’t an actual butler character.
W: Ah, we were all a little “bum”-ed at one point.
M: Ha ha! Yeah, cute bit of stage business! The ladies loved it!
W: Hey, something for everybody! I was really impressed with Clinton Vidal, the main character. He sure can deliver the one liners! Nice comedic timing and physical humor too. Love it when actors really figure out their characters. It makes for memorable performances.
M: Yeah, I felt the actors all had their lines and characters down pretty well. A few trip ups here and there, but they’ll work that out.
W: Still pretty sharp considering two leads came in as replacements some three weeks before opening.
M: Bet that was stressful.
W: “Scary” ‘s how the Director put it. He said once he recast Clinton as Dr. Prentice and found Maureen-Theresa Williams, they just all “dove in.”
M: Kudos to Byron Peters and the cast!
W: You know, I think BOTTG’s audience must really enjoy risqué shows. I asked the director about it. He said he directed “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” here years ago and, “If (BOTTG is) willing to take the risk, to do this type of show,” he just rolls with it. He also said he gave a lot of thought to one prop in particular and decided, “I gotta put the (censored) in, I think it works.”
M: Ha ha! Hey, put that in the review!
W: Really? Maybe. Ah, maybe not.
M: Wimp! BOTTG did good. I hope people come out to see the show.
W: Me too.
M: You know, I really like how community theater works. Volunteers from different walks of life pulling together to produce a show.
W: They’ve got a lot of dedicated, talented people on the team. Did you notice the beautiful colors in the set? Their lead set painter is a classically trained restoration artist. BOTTG might be community theater, but there's professionalism throughout.
M: Well, gotta run.
W: Nice talking to ya. Hey, maybe we can catch a show together next time around!
M: Sounds titillating! Bye now!
W: I hate that word.
This has been a review of “What the Butler Saw”, a classic British farce by Joe Orton, presented by the Benicia Old Town Theatre Group and directed by Byron Peters. Three shows weekly Friday & Saturday 8 pm and Sunday Matinee 2 pm through November 10. Ticket prices are $20 ($18 for seniors and students). Tickets can be purchased online, at the box office or at the Chamber of Commerce.
* The Court Theatre Study Guide explains this really well.
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