Theater archives

The Coffin Corner


More intentionally shocking than intentionally amusing,” warns director Scott Shattuck about Joe Orton’s Loot (Cocteau Rep). Well, maybe that was true at the play’s 1965 debut, but at a recent Saturday matinee not far from the millennium, a blue-haired matron chirpily pronounced it “cute.” Ah, what a way we’ve come since we could be disturbed by a satire of Christian piety, familial devotion, and a benevolent government. Now we smile at the story of a good man trying with dignity to bury his wife—murdered by a seducer–serial poisoner nurse—while his reprobate son and the undertaker (the son’s male lover) hide their loot from a bank heist in her coffin and a corrupt detective sniffs out both blood and money. The most grisly moment in this production occurs when the cop gingerly tastes a glass eye escaped from the corpse, but even this is pretty shiver-free in a There’s Something About Mary age of gross comedy. What hold up best are Orton’s farcical misunderstandings, double entendres, and epigrammatic wit. This has a Wildean flavor, tart and sly, that might burst free in a more outré staging. In its most delightful moments, Shattuck’s pacing has a manic edge, and the epigrams are perfectly timed grenades. Tracey Atkins, as the nurse, tosses one with blasé and deadly aim when she suggests adorning the dead wife’s coffin with the Ten Commandments: “She was a great believer in…some of them.” But overall, Orton invites a more knowing and over-the-top interpretation. As his detective chides, “What’s gone on here is scandalous and had better go no further than these [wink] three walls.”