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“What the Butler Saw”

Westport Country Playhouse

 

Joe Orton’s wildly funny play, “What the Butler Saw,” is currently being given a grand production at Westport Country Playhouse.  With a game cast of six actors and fine direction by John Tillinger, this show takes a little time to get going, but, once it does, you are in for a quite a ride.  The fact that Joe Orton’s play is spiked with such topics as transvestism and homosexuality may turn some people off, but, overall, “What the Butler Saw” is a such a laugh-fest that it is almost sure to ultimately win most audiences over.  Add in a faultless company of performers (who seem to specialize in farce) and “What the Butler Saw” at Westport Country Playhouse proves to be a pretty hysterical night at the theatre.

The play takes place in the late 1960s and opens with a young woman, Geraldine Barclay (portrayed by the terrific Sarah Manton), interviewing for a secretarial job for a psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice (the extremely funny Robert Stanton), at a private clinic.  It is evident in the opening moments that the doctor wants Geraldine Barclay for much more than just a secretary and he actually asks the young woman to disrobe behind a curtain so that he can examine her more thoroughly.  I would hate to give much more of the plot away, since the surprises in the play are so side-splitting, but it is from this first scene that “What the Butler Saw” goes merrily off track, spinning in a multitude of different directions.

In “What the Butler Saw,” the other zany characters include Dr. Prentice’s luscious wife (who arrives in the play wearing a fur coat and not much more underneath).  The wife is played by the wonderful Patricia Kalember and just to see the look of shock on her face throughout much of the show is totally laugh-inducing.  Joining her is an amorous bellboy, Nicholas Beckett (played by the handsome and gifted Chris Ghaffari), a policeman, Sergeant Match (the talented Julian Gamble) and, above all, a visiting psychiatrist, Dr. Rance, portrayed by the distinguished and droll Paxton Whitehead, who has come to evaluate Dr. Prentice’s practice and gets much more than he expected.

The excellent director John Tillinger keeps all these actors in almost constant motion throughout, and there are lots of instances of mistaken identity, men dressing up as women (and vice versa), and a number of other confusions.  The director’s pacing of the show is spot-on, though it must be said that the momentum of the play takes a little bit of time to really get going.  Indeed, if the first act is funny, the second act really takes off, inducing near hysterics from the audience.  It is almost difficult to remember everything that actually happens in “What the Butler Saw,” but you will probably be laughing too hard to notice.

The attractive set design by James Noone is that of an office which, appropriately, features a number of doors and windows, as befits a farce like this.  Since there is so much changing of clothes throughout the show, a good deal of credit must also go to the expert work of costume designer Laurie Churba.  John McKernon’s lighting and Scott Killian’s sound design are similarly fine and, overall, all these designers have fashioned the perfect setting for the hilarity of “What the Butler Saw” to come through ideally.

Since all six actors are equally good, it would be almost unfair to pick anyone out as a favorite, though, for me, Paxton Whitehead’s constant bewilderment in the play is quite memorable.  Indeed, “What the Butler Saw” at Westport Country Playhouse is truly a production of sheer merriment and laughter and proves to be one of the funniest shows that I have seen in years.  It is highly recommended that you get to Westport Country Playhouse to see “What the Butler Saw” to join in the craziness and delicious hysteria that this show has in spades.

“What the Butler Saw” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through September 10, 2016.  For tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.

Photo (L-R): Chris Ghaffari and Robert Stanton

Photo by Carol Rosegg

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