I really don’t know how to review this one. What The Butler Saw at the Mark Taper Forum made me realize that perhaps I’m just not into farce. But the rest of the opening night audience definitely was!

The show isn’t bad, nor poorly-written, and the actors are all real pros. It’s just basically not my cup of tea. Although, I do love The Importance of Being Earnest and all things Moliere.

Sarah Manton and Charles Shaughnessy.  Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Sarah Manton and Charles Shaughnessy. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

For me, this particular farce was too outdated for me to enjoy much. It reminded me of No Sex Please, We’re British, the third longest-running, and worst, play in London history. What The Butler Saw was written in the mid-’60s, so maybe rape, incest, and mental illness jokes, and people getting gun-shot, were funny then. But not now, and definitely not to me.

But those were just a small part of the humor in this one, so perhaps it’s acceptable in farce. I had laughed a few times before the first rape discussion, but that knocked the mirth right out of me.

Also, I could barely make-out what some of them were saying. I still believe that every seat in the Taper is a good one, but I had rarely sat in the back before this show. The sight-lines were great, but maybe the usually-excellent sound system doesn’t reach that high up. But, since I sat in that area for the last production, as well, and heard every word uttered by Michael Urie (the lone actor in that one) loud and clear, I think it was more a matter of some of these actors swallowing their lines. I heard only about a tenth of what Paxton Whitehead said.

There was a Glossary of British Terms in the program, which would be really useful for seeing an English play. But, in this case, I never heard even one of those words used! Which means I know that I missed at least all of those words!

There were a few little things on stage that bothered us, mainly to do with Frances Barber’s performance. She was excellent, probably the best one, and we could hear every word of hers, so kudos to her for all of that. But, for a reason several of us cannot fathom, the decision-makers on this production chose to put her in heels that were obviously painfully too high and uncomfortable for her. She could barely walk in them, which was so distracting, especially because her character was always on the move.

Frances Barber, (see what I mean about her heels?,) Angus McEwan, and Paxton Whitehead.  Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Frances Barber, (see what I mean about her heels?,) Angus McEwan, and Paxton Whitehead. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Another strangeness of her part was that she kept scratching her head in a weird way. I thought it was a wig that was just on wrong, while my pal thought it was Ms. Barber’s own hair. Either way, it appeared to be itchy on opening night. (If, for some unknown reason, that was an acting or directing choice, she should lose it, pronto.)

The most confusing part of all is that there was not a butler in sight!!! I kept waiting for him to appear, and thought that would tie it all together. (The program posits that the title refers to what a butler would see if he “peeped through a keyhole to see what the masters were up to.” So, everyone, learn to read your program thoroughly.)

The playwright, Joe Orton, was killed shortly after he completed this play. Had he been alive a bit longer, I have a feeling there would have been several re-writes. There were a few little holes in the script, like that they mentioned that this was a mental hospital, and then later, said it was a home. Unless it was my family’s house, I doubt it could have realistically been both.

What The Butler Saw running through December 21, 2014
Mark Taper Forum 135 N. Grand Ave.  213-972-4400


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