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Margo Kline: ‘Loot’ Showing Its Age

Ensemble Theatre's talented cast of actors the saving grace of an outdated play

The Ensemble Theatre Company is closing out its 30th season with the dark English comedy Loot, a production long on acting talent, but in service to an outdated play.

The play at the Alhecama Theatre elicited audience laughter at its opening night Saturday, thanks to well-cast actors with expert timing and body language. But the bleak comedy that outraged and amused audiences in 1965 has not aged very well.

While the nimble cast is excellent, the production values are typical for Ensemble — clever and suitable on a small theater company’s even smaller budget. Ensemble’s executive artistic director, Jonathan Fox, was the stage director for the production, which runs through June 27.

The outrage generated by Loot when it opened in London was centered on the macabre plot contrivances, including the dead mother’s corpse being hustled about and treated with less than reverence. Two central characters are the late mum’s homosexual son and his bisexual boyfriend, which may have raised eyebrows 45 years ago but hardly merits a second thought in the present era of gay marriage and the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military.

Playing the son of the house is Kerby Joe Grubb, a tall drink of water with a woebegone manner, and his lover, Dennis, is portrayed by Wyatt Fenner. Like the remainder of the cast, they are excellent actors and engaging farceurs.

David McCann plays Mr. McLeavy, Hal’s dad and the widower of the unfortunate mother. He is not just a proper English gentleman; he is a refined member of the Roman Catholic Church who cares deeply about decency and proper order in all matters.

Heather Prete, a buxom blonde, is the late Mrs. McLeavy’s nurse, Fay. Not only is Fay, as the saying goes, no better than she should be, but there are some genuinely sinister aspects to her past.

Then there is Inspector Truscott, who comes prowling in his trench coat and snap-brim hat. Played by Ned Schmidtke, he pretends to be from the municipal water board but is only too clearly a ringer from Scotland Yard.

So, the plot thickens with the elements of a naturally deceased mother whose body keeps being moved about, a large stash of pound notes that the young men have just made off with in a bank robbery, and the machinations of the scheming Fay, looking to marry the distraught widower Mr. McLeavy.

The play is referred to as a “dark farce,” which, of course, is a contradiction in terms. Farce needs to be light on its feet, and Loot is anything but. Fortunately, there are well-designed fight scenes staged by noted fight choreographer Ken Merckx, which bring some buoyancy to the proceedings.

All the principals in the cast are members of Actors Equity, except for Julian Rubel, who has just completed his third year in UCSB’s acting program. He acquits himself very well as the hapless constable Meadows.

The production stage manager was Alexander Berger. Ensemble veterans created the production designs, with Fred Kinney on scenery, Barbara Lackner on costumes and Jean Yves Tessier on lighting. JB Blanc was the dialect coach, helping the actors sound genuinely British.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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