Westport Country Playhouse: A naked man runs across the stage with nothing more than an English police helmet covering his private area. Meanwhile the officer of the law runs around in a tight-fitting leopard dress and a young lady dons a porter’s uniform.
All of this crazy behavior stems from a horny psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice, who tries to hide the fact that he wanted to seduce a young woman applying for a job as his secretary. When his wife suddenly appears, the cover up and lies begin to multiply and are further enhanced when Dr. Prentice’s superior, Dr. Rance, arrives unannounced.
At first sight, this appears to be a typical English farce with plenty of doors for the actors to be running in and out of. However, this comedy is by the late Joe Orton who liked to prove that things said in jest certainly have more meaning.
Directed with a penchant for perfect timing by John Tillinger, there is no doubt that Orton is mocking the psychiatric profession. Dr. Rance, performed brilliantly by Paxton Whitehead, comes up with the most convoluted intellectual sounding rationale for a simple situation, which makes him appear pompous and idiotic. That’s exactly what Orton was aiming for. The police officer takes off his clothes for an impromptu examination, which makes him come across as absolutely stupid. Orton was one who liked to make fun of those in authority and did so in this play.
According to the playbill, the title of this play came about when a prominent couple filed for divorce and the butler claimed to have seen through the keyhole of the dining room door the lady of the house entertaining many lovers. The jurors actually went to the estate and peered into the keyhole to determine if what the butler claimed he saw was possible.
As it turns out in this play, both Dr. Prentice and his wife were having affairs and in a most dramatic ending, the play reaches an incredibly hilarious resolution. Robert Stanton is likeable as Dr. Prentice in spite of this character’s sexual dalliances. Patricia Kalember of Weston plays the shapely nymphomaniac Mrs. Prentice with upper-class flair and Sarah Manton as Geraldine Barclay, the wannabe secretary, has plenty of comic appeal. Chris Ghaffari plays the porter with muscle to spare and Julian Gamble as Sergeant Match matches his castmates’ comedic skill.
James Noone’s set design is exquisite. I can’t imagine any doctor’s office more appealing architecturally, from floor to ceiling. Laurie Churba designs fast change costumes without compromising style. John McKernon and Scott Killian accent the stage with light and sound respectively.
Overall, this is a laugh-out-loud, fun-filled comedy that makes an end of summer outing delightful. It plays through Sept. 11 (extra Sunday performance added). Box office: 203-227-4177.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]