Orton satire opens mystery summer
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The 2012 Iowa Summer Rep season of “Chills and Thrills” will open with a racy, Monty Pythonesque satire of the mystery genre, Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw, at 8 p.m., Thursday, June 21, in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
Other performances will be at 8 p.m., June 22-24, 26 and 27, and July 1, 3, 8, 10 and 11. A 6 p.m. July 4 performance will be completed in time for audience members to enjoy the fireworks.
Director Eric Forsythe, who is also the artistic director of the UI’s professional summer company, explains: “It’s a spoof of detective mysteries, sex farces, and the whole idea of self-important institutions, including (but not limited to) the field of psychiatry, legal systems in general, theater itself, dogged detectives, and well-meaning civil servants.
"We have to accept the possibility that what the ‘butler’ saw is probably us! (This play is probably inappropriate for people who can’t laugh about sex, or who might be embarrassed to laugh about it in public, or for anyone who never read a mystery.)”
What the Butler Saw, with its dry British wit and over-the-top characters, has been called one of the great satiric comedies of modern theater. Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist, attempts to seduce attractive prospective secretary Geraldine. When the doctor’s wife interrupts the “interview,” sparks (and several items of clothing) fly. At the same time, Mrs. Prentice is being secretly seduced by young Nicholas, whom she has promised the doctor’s secretary job. In a cross-dressing calamity, Nicholas and Geraldine end up dressed as each other.
Dr. Prentice’s clinic is then faced with a government inspection headed by the self-important Dr. Rance and a police investigation led by bulldog-like Sergeant Match. Behind all this stands the upright statue of Sir Winston Churchill, whose private parts somehow work their way into the whole sticky situation.
Dr. Rance, absolutely giddy amid the surrounding chaos, and hoping to capitalize on it all by publishing details in a new psychiatric masterpiece, proclaims: “The final chapters of my book are knitting together: incest, buggery, outrageous women, and strange love-cults catering to depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac.”
Orton, whose work was the focus of an entire Iowa Summer Rep festival several years ago, had a brief but prolific career of dark comedies that drew outrageous humor from institutions, sex, and tradition.
Between 1964 and 1967, Orton contributed to a vivid working class culture that swept through Great Britain. A promiscuous man at a time when the counterculture was actively persecuted by the police, Orton was the rising star of an ‘alternative British intelligentsia’ when he was murdered by his lover.
Iowa Summer Rep is an Actors' Equity professional company, and the production of What the Butler Saw includes Equity actor William Watt, an Iowa Summer Rep regular; and Equity stage manager Erin C. Patrick, a UI theatre arts alumna.
Other artistic contributors include scene and costume designer Amanda Quivey and sound designer Mark Bruckner.
Iowa Summer Rep represents a rich tradition of nearly a century of summer theater at the UI. Beginning with Edward C. Mabie’s arrival on campus in 1920, summer play production became a regular feature at the UI.
Beginning in 1939 and continuing for more than 40 years, summer theater productions were a part of the UI Fine Arts Festival. From 1920 through 1960, summer productions were mounted successively, one after the other.
Starting in 1961, Summer Rep was established and presented four plays simultaneously in an alternating rep style. In 1984, Iowa Summer Rep presented its first single-playwright season, offering a unique focus in American summer theater that continued for more than two decades. In 2000 Summer Rep elevated its status by becoming an Actors’ Equity company.
Tickets to What the Butler Saw are $26 ($23 for senior citizen, $13 for youth, and $5 for UI student with a valid UI ID). Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher box office, 193 University Capitol Centre, www.hancher.uiowa.edu/tickets, 800-426-3437 or 319-335-1160. Special accommodations are also available through the box office.
Any remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale an hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.
Discounted season subscriptions—for either all three Summer Rep shows or Summer Rep plus the opera H.M.S. Pinafore—are available through a downloadable order form. Subscriptions may also be purchased by phone or in person at the box office.
The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Learn about the division activities at the new ArtsIowa website.