This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here
What The Butler Saw
By Gary Wien
originally published: 08/22/2017
The name Joe Orton may not be familiar to many American theatre fans, but in the mid 1960s he was a rising star in England. Orton was an openly gay man during a time in which homosexuality was actively persecuted by the police. His career was tragically cut short when his partner (Kenneth Halliwell who suffered from severe depression) brutally murdered Orton and then killed himself in 1967. This occurred roughly one month after Orton finished the satirical comedy What the Butler Saw, which would be his final play. It made its debut in London in 1969 and will have a rare performance in America atThe Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison.
Directed by Paul Mullins, the cast includes Jeffrey M. Bender, Peter Simon Hilton, John Hutton, Allison Layman, Vanessa Morosco, Robbie Simpson.
“It’s absolutely crazy!” said Peter Simon Hilton, who portrays Dr. Prentice. His actual wife Vanessa Morosco joins him as his wife in the play. “Obviously it’s a farce so it’s very fast moving — doors are opening and shutting. It’s set in a medical psychiatric clinic in England in the late 1960s. It runs at breakneck speed. It has the most extraordinary sort of acceleration to an astonishing end. It never lets you down. It’s incredibly funny and naughty!”
In fact, the play shocked audiences when it was first produced. Now, almost 50 years later, the play unveils the fragile state of truth in the hands of those in power, and the power of truth despite our easy ability to twist it.
“I think one of the things that is surprising about this play is that even though it was written in the late 1960s, it will seem - at moments - incredibly ahead of our time,” said Vanessa Morosco. “It challenges many culture norms.”
The article continues after this ad
“Cultural and societal norms surround sexuality and the medical profession and mental health,” Peter adds. “Even though the situations are all extraordinary and extremely comedic, it still touches upon the establishment and how truth is constantly manipulated in order for people to retain their own authority and power. This is what Joe Orton was so good at. I think it was definitely something Orton was very interested in exploring and in this play he does it through these ludicrous characters in insane situations. But he often asks the questions: ‘What is truth? Who are the guardians of the truth? And what do we do when our authority figures deny the truth?’”
While the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is primarily dedicated to Shakespeare’s canon and works by his fellow playwrights of the day, the company generally includes a surprise or two each season - sometimes recent plays or rarely performed works. This will be the first Joe Orton play produced at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey during the tenure of Bonnie J. Monte as Artistic Director.
“One of the things I think is extraordinary in the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s choice for this play is that Joe Orton rarely gets produced in the United States,” said Vanessa. “He’s a great playwright and despite the play obviously written in the English language there is no mistaking that this is a foreign play to American audiences. Having the opportunity to watch it in the United States is rare and special. I think it is a real gift that the company has offered us both as actors and to the audience as well.”
“We recently did a production of Arcadia, which experiences a similar fate of not being produced very often for different reasons,” added Peter. “These are great plays and the fact that we, as the theatre going public in America, don’t get the opportunity to see them very often is rather sad.”
Performing in a play together is nothing new for Peter and Vanessa. This will be their 14th play together, although only the second one to feature them as husband and wife on stage.
“It’s quite exciting to actually be on stage as a married couple playing a married couple - even though the married couple we’re playing on stage is extraordinarily dysfunctional!” said Peter.
“I hope we have a healthier marriage in real life than the one we’ll portray on stage,” replies Vanessa. “Although I will say that our partnership in life as well as our history of working together as performers serves us greatly in playing the couple on stage. Because while we often have a contentious relationship there is great humor that is derived from the way in which we banter together as Dr. and Mrs. Prentice. And, in order to achieve that it requires great partnership between the actors.”
Peter says it requires great trust as well. “We have an innate trust between us because of our life experiences outside of the roles we’re playing,” he explains. “So, it allows both ourselves, the rest of the cast, and the director to know they can put us in extraordinary positions very quickly in the rehearsal process and we will thrive from that and support the piece.”
Other than the rare opportunity to see Joe Orton’s work on stage, Peter believes people will enjoy the play’s witty and biting dialogue — reminiscent of Oscar Wilde - and the way the play remains rather shocking.
“It’s like Benny Hill and Oscar Wilde put together and slapped on to the front pages of the New York Times as the most shocking event that’s ever happened,” said Peter. “It’s an enormous tragedy that surrounds this play having first been performed after Joe Orton was murdered in such a gruesome way by his long time partner and lover. I can imagine that when this was first put on there was enormous joy and elation for being able to do such a great and intricately structured play that was so biting and on the edge. But, at the same time, enormous sadness that the world had lost a great playwright.”
What The Butler Saw is presented September 6 - October 1 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Avenue in Madison, New Jersey.
The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre (NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast! The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez (OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20. The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington (JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll. Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage (MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel. The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ. The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends (CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning East Lynne Theater Company, with The Henry Sawyer Inn and Twin Gables Inn, present Murder Mystery Weekends on February 15-16, March 8-9, March 22-23, March 29-30, and April 5-6. Participants can test their crime-solving skills while staying in one of these lovely Bed & Breakfasts. East Lynne Theater Company's Murder Mystery Weekends were cited among one of the top five in the country by "AM NY."
It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared.
Those are often the most powerful.Rise of the Goatman Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST. It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign. On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2" Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.”
But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.