Theater review: What the Butler Saw

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The farce genre dates back to the ancient Greeks, but its branches continue to creep onto our stages. Playwright Joe Orton managed to stuff most of the genre's cliches into his 1969 comedy "What the Butler Saw."

CATCO stages "Butler" on Brad Steinmetz's classy set of a spacious London psychiatric office. The practice's doctor, Dr. Prentice (Jonathan Putnam), attempts to seduce Geraldine Barclay (Kelly Strand), who is applying for a job as his secretary, but he is interrupted by his wife (Mandy Fox).

She, in turn, is being blackmailed by Nicholas Beckett (James Sargent), a hotel bellboy who helped her with more than her luggage the night before.

The office receives a visit from a clueless government inspector, Dr. Rance (Jon Farris), who gives a bad name to both bureaucracy and medicine. Later, police officer Sgt. Match (Tom Holliday) arrives to try to make sense of all the nonsense.

Director Geoffrey Nelson drives this vehicle at a deliberate pace. His cast mostly steers clear of playing for the laughs, but it also seems like some of Orton's flourishes puzzle them.

Orton clearly aspired to the verbal heights of Oscar Wilde, but he injected a dark political undercurrent that kept pulling "Butler" back to late 1960s Britain. There's Orton's obsession with Winston Churchill's virility, as well as repeated references to rape that sound jarringly dismissive to 21st-century ears.

If you enjoy farce, CATCO's "Butler" may tickle your funny bone. If you don't, it might just creep you out.

Riffe Center Studio One Theatre

Through April 17

77 S. High St., Downtown