Joe Orton’s play Loot was controversial when it premiered in 1966, but in a new Red Bull Theater production, the play feels trifling and fun, like a slightly sharper-fanged Oscar Wilde comedy. Days after the death of a tender matriarch, a gang of ne’er-do-wells, including her son, connive to make mischief around her coffin. Rather than bring them to justice, a proud investigator tortures everyone involved, including the upright widower, until he finds what’s in it for him.
Jesse Berger directs the play as a strict farce, with his actors mechanical and self-knowing from the opening scene. It’s a reasonable choice, but his production lacks grace and his cast, though competent, doesn’t find the core of believability needed to sell the ludicrousness of Orton’s script. Jarlath Conroy, as the widower, and Rocco Sisto, as the detective, each lack range but ground the production in innocence and villainy, respectively. Nick Westrate, as the son, is the most confident performer, while the charismatic Rebecca Brooksher, as a femme fatale nurse, tries a bit too hard for laughs.
Narelle Sissons’s set design captures the staleness and insincerity of Orton’s world. Even after the playwright’s cynicism has become mainstream, his craft and comic wit merit this otherwise tame return voyage.