What the Butler Saw

Though his life was short and his popularity fleeting, playwright Joe Orton made his mark with a scathing wit and no hold's barred approach to his subject matter. All this and more is now deliciously evident in the scintillating revival of his farcical masterpiece, What the Butler Saw, at Germinal Stage Denver.

Defiantly overcoming his hardscrabble background, Orton thrived on the outrage he felt for contemporary norms of behavior and belief, which is evident in the scalding reports that come roiling from the script. Like the formidable repartee of the esteemed writers he was compared to—Wilde, Shaw, and Jonson—Orton's verbal waves engulf you in laughter. Some of it is naughty, of course, since Orton's sexual politics were central to his life; some of it is impressively universal, such as his epigrammatic quips on psychiatry, politics, religion, and marriage.

Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Mrs. Prentice and Tupper Cullum as Dr. Prentice
Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Mrs. Prentice
and Tupper Cullum as Dr. Prentice
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
The action takes place in a mental clinic presided over by Dr. Prentice (Tupper Cullum), a drug-dispensing profligate, married to a randy seductress (Erica Sarzin-Borrillo). From the six separate stage doors enter and exit four other equally hyperbolic personalities: Geraldine (Elizabeth Parks), the attractive secretarial applicant; Nick (Mark Shonsey), the scheming bellhop; Dr. Rance (Ed Baierlein), the state's pontificating mental division overseer; and Sgt. Match (Thomas Borrillo), the hapless cop.

In Orton's madcap world, innocents are preyed upon by authorities who twist facts and manipulate circumstances to suit their objectives, or as Rance says, "Civilizations have been founded and maintained on theories which refused to obey facts." According to Orton, this obfuscation is planned: Mrs. Prentice -- "The purpose of my husband's clinic isn't to cure, but to liberate and exploit madness." Rance -- "In this case he appears to succeed only too well."

Elizabeth Parks as Geraldine and Ed Baierlein as Dr. Rance
Elizabeth Parks as Geraldine
and Ed Baierlein as Dr. Rance
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Cullum is cool and collected as Prentice, a wry straight man to the rest of the wacky menagerie. Sarzin-Borrillo is his match as the Mrs., making no bones about her irresistible allure or any apologies for her conquests. An employment opening for the clinic receptionist gives each of them an opportunity for sexual exploitation, he with Geraldine, sent by the employment agency, and she with Nick, whom she picked up at a hotel the previous evening.

Wide-eyed and comely, Parks' Geraldine falls for Prentice's ruse, setting in motion a series of half-dressed, half-drugged, cross-dressed, and cross-purposed events that resolve in a classic finale.

Tom Borrillo as Sgt. Match and Mark Shonsey as Nick
Tom Borrillo as Sgt. Match
and Mark Shonsey as Nick
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Shonsey's five o'clock shadow and droll assessments heighten the conceit of Nick's feminine alter-ego, while Tom Borrillo's police officer produces just the right menace to make his complicity in the antics a satisfying commentary on the law's peripheral role in the human comedy.

Baierlein directs the fray with surgical precision, mining the situational opportunities for physical comedy and eliciting a vocal discipline from his troops that starkly contrasts the bizarre life forms which collide in this funhouse mirror to the world. As Rance, Baierlein relishes the honor of delivering a marvelous set of observations that beg us to laugh at the surety with which pundits characterize our present circumstances.

Germinal Stage Denver's production of Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw runs through July 8th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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