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Theater Review: What the Butler Saw

By Heather J. Anderson

Written by Joe Orton

Directed by Richard Marcus

With Fernando J. Paiz G, Marketa Valterova '00, Jessica Lin , Thomas Cork '00, Jeremy Lueck '99, Ann-Marie White G

What do you get when you mix a young and talented cast, a funny (even if a bit sophomoric) script, and more underwear than seen in Dance Troupe's recent production, Fever? You get the enigmatically titled British sex farce What the Butler Saw, put on by the MIT Theater Arts department.

Butler takes place in an eclectic world where clothing equals character and nearly everyone is mad - yet suspending one's disbelief is entirely effortless. The thing I liked most about the show was the boundless energy and downright guts the actors exhibited. It may be cliched, but every member of this highly ensemble cast gave 110 percent of their energy 100 percent of the time. Even the pacing, which was at times awkward, did not interfere with the overall amusement of the play.

In brief, the story is that of a professional psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice (Fernando J. Paiz G) who tries to seduce his new secretary, Geraldine Barclay (Marketa Valterova '00) right before he is caught by his wife, Mrs. Prentice (Jessica Lin). All of this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the play; the rest of the time the secretary is trying to escape all the madmen (and women) around her by convincing Dr. Prentice to help her by telling the truth. Blackmail, quackery, and unbridled sexual appetite are the order of the day, and a surprise ending leaves everyone feeling (ahem) satisfied.

I applaud director Richard Marcus for picking a talented cast, and most of all for not forcing the actors speak in a British accent, which would be tempting in a play which begs comparison with Noises Off (rent the movie version if you haven't seen it). Paiz is excellent as the dishonorable Dr. Prentice, displaying the same passion he had in the recent MIT Shakespeare Ensemble performance, Measure for Measure. In Butler he is allowed to be hilarious as well as uptight. Although her comic timing was a bit off in spots, Valterova (also from Measure for Measure) excels at evoking wads of sympathy form the audience as the only sane person in a house full of loons. Lin, the tall, beautiful, exotic Mrs. Prentice, was a bit too careless with her diction, but was exciting to watch nonetheless. Thomas Cork '00 (also from Measure) playing the unscrupulous, insatiable Nicholas Beckett, pageboy turned blackmailer who wants nothing more than to be hired as Dr. Prentice's typist, was quite funny, and looked marvelous in a leopard print dress and black pumps. White, always a pleasure to watch, played Sergeant Match (a bobby being a must in most British sex farces). Match is male in the play, but this cross casting did her (and us) no harm, and it was a shame that she was not on-stage as often as the rest of the cast. However, it was Lueck, the government-issued rival psychiatrist with bestseller ambitions and a taste for controlled substances, who stole the show with his boisterously entertaining facial expressions and great comic timing.

The set, "the consultation room of an exclusive, private psychiatric clinic," was well planned; each piece of furniture was well used and well placed. However (and this is something I never thought I would say), Little Kresge seemed too large for the play. I would have preferred the wings to come on-stage a little further, and the doors far downstage right and left not be used at all. A three-walled office would have been a better choice than no-walled, as the distances the actors had to traverse between entrance and exit added to the awkwardness of the timing, especially at the end. The costuming was very good, including the outer- and under-wear, but the lighting could have been improved, as one out of four lighting cues was mishandled. Overall though, the production was highly enjoyable.

If you missed What the Butler Saw, then shame on you. Seriously, the MIT Theater Arts department consistently puts on good productions, and I encourage all of you to support this group by seeing their next show, Romeo and Juliet.