What the Butler Saw | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

What the Butler Saw 

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What the Butler Saw, Sense of Urgency Productions, at the Viaduct Theater. It's been over 30 years since Joe Orton's ribald sex farce first warned an anxious bourgeoisie about the social menace posed by the artistic avant-garde, scrupulous homosexuals, and loose women in tight girdles.

But one generation's cutting-edge sex circus is another's community-theater revival. The crippled physical comedy and diffuse ensemble work of this tepid staging send Orton's comedy into a sitcom rut, spinning its wheels in the manner of late-era Three's Company. Though director Ray Kasper coordinates the door slamming, costume changes, men-in-drag moments, and onstage stripping with a steady hand, the action seems just a tad slow. And the actors appear either disinterested or unnecessarily eager.

Still, you can't fault the cast for the play's substantial thematic problems. This once lethal black comedy barely gasps for air today, the victim of its own joyous prophesying: drag kings, horny housewives, and a wardrobe of panties and bandeau tops just aren't that funny anymore. Giddily obsessed with the dilemmas occasioned by fluid gender identity and repressed sexuality in a heterosexual culture, Orton today would probably find his own insatiable exhibitionism and tres gay sensibility terribly old hat.

--Erik Piepenburg

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