Before the actors even walk on the stage in “What The Butler Saw,” the audience is greeted with the sound of their laughter. Is this a sign of what’s to come in this traditionally romping sex farce? Yes, and no.
The Gallery Players’ production of the Joe Orton script, running now through Sept. 26, delves gamely into the outrageous plot and extravagance of the 1960s British play, though suffers at times from poor timing and unbalanced overacting. Yes, even a farce has its limits.
The action occurs in the office of Dr. Prentice (David Sedgwick), a psychiatrist with questionable morals — we first meet him trying to seduce a naïve secretary, Geraldine Barclay (Emily Taplin Boyd), who’s interviewing for a job in his hospital. Things don’t go according to plan, however, when his wife (Nicole Fitzpatrick) enters the room, just as the young woman is lying naked behind a curtain.
From there, the mayhem doesn’t stop, with a sleazy bellhop (Kane Prestenback), over-imaginative psychiatrist (Tom Cleary) and dense cop (Nat Cassidy) added to the mix. With Dr. Prentice as the ringleader, you can just see the sweat dripping on Sedgwick’s forehead as he tries to keep his head above water. Each lie just gets him in deeper, though, and cross-dressing, accusations of molestation and incest, and several cases of mistaken identity ensue. Oh yeah, and there are lots of doors (including the inventive use of a skylight).
There are several moving parts in the production, directed by Zac Hoogendyk, and the cast just manages to keep all the balls up in the air. In a play that’s nothing save for its timing, the pacing often gets slightly ahead, or behind, of itself. A few more performances might find the cast settling in to the fast-paced choreography and dialogue, making for sharper movement on and off the stage.
Over-the-top action is also the order of the day — in this case, there’s more than one occasion of an actor in his (or her) underwear, an accidental drug overdose, and multiple shots fired — with bloody consequences. When the action doesn’t lull, the high energy can get high-strung, particularly as the play heads towards the climax of both acts. Instead of a gradual increase, it’s a full-on sprint.
That said, the actors are eager, gamely running around half-dressed and spouting the very dense dialogue with ease (as far as those British accents go, one can hope that those, too, get better with time). All have their moments — a particularly wry delivery here or spot-on line there that gets the audience going (especially thanks to Cleary’s apt physical humor). There’ll be laughs; you’ll just have to wait for them.
“What The Butler Saw” at The Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595-0547] weekends through Sept. 26. For info, visit www.galleryplayers.com.