In a housing development that never got finished, Kath and her father live next door to what has become a garbage dump. This is, or used to be, the setting for Entertaining Mr. Sloane, the play that made Joe Orton famous. Uninitiated souls who see the new Roundabout production of Sloane, staged by Scott Ellis, and wonder how such a harmless little comedy could make someone famous, should note that, in Ellis’s staging, the garbage dump is invisible, and Kath’s now cozy living room has been pushed back behind a proscenium arch that looks like a fake-marble Formica sink top. Everything’s tidy, nothing’s seedy. But take away the stink of garbage and you take away Orton.
Kath, dowdy and aging and none too bright, lives in a delusional lower-middle-class world of sentimental daydreams and prudish denial. Her closeted businessman brother Ed, who pays for the house but doesn’t live there, inhabits his own delusional world of tough-minded men and obedient boys. They’re both easy prey for Sloane—young, handsome, endowed, haplessly unscrupulous, and willing to say or do pretty much anything. The only trouble is their “Dadda”: The old grouch recognizes Sloane from a part of his personal history the young man would sooner forget. But this is a family with no love lost between its members, and anything can be arranged if you need it badly enough . . .
Unhesitating in its bluntness and elegant in its wit, Sloane turns on the discrepancy between what’s said and what’s done. Playing it fast, manic, and cutely lovable, Ellis remakes Sloane‘s angular characters into sweetly goofy cartoons, robbing them of their scary multi-dimensionality. Padded costumes and skillful technique can’t transform Jan Maxwell into this frump; Richard Easton, as her dad, can’t help displaying a misplaced classical grandeur; Chris Carmack’s Sloane is an eager-to-please chorus boy without a trace of menace. Only Alec Baldwin’s stuffy, huffy Ed shows a glimmer of authenticity. Everything else feels less like Orton’s Entertaining than Fox Entertainment.