That question is very present in the Odyssey Theatre Company’s production of “Loot” directed by Bart DeLorenzo.
What’s fascinating about bringing an old script back to life whether it’s playwright Joe Orton’s 1964 British farce or an ancient Greek text - is that there are two sides to the equation: one side that happens onstage and the other that happens in the audience.
What’s happening on stage in this production is really strong. “Loot” is a classic British crime drama that skewers British culture, the Catholic church, our attitudes about sex and death and power. The title captures the driving force of the plot - loot from a bank robbery needs to be stashed somewhere. Hal and his maybe lover/maybe friend have just robbed a bank by tunneling from a funeral home. Now they have to figure out what to do with the cash. As luck would have it, Hal’s mom has just died and is lying in an open coffin before the funeral. Large pile of money, large box - you see where this is going. Rounding out our cast of characters is Hal’s dad who while probably the only upstanding member of this world - isn’t immune to being seduced by his late wife’s live-in nurse who has designs on making him her eighth husband. She’s got something of a track record of helping the bereaved becomes victims of her deadly con.
This being a crime comedy, we need a detective and actor Ron Bottitta gives us the pitch-perfect inspector Truscott complete with trench coat, pipe, and brilliantly bad comprehension of the facts in front of him.
All of this is handled by the production. This is some of Bart DeLorenzo’s tightest direction and the farce unfolds with the right amount of bluster and incompetence.
Remember though, what’s onstage is only half of the equation and Joe Orton’s script’s engine is fueled, in no small part, on shock and outrage. This play is a product of the 60’s and pushing against the establishment was basically de rigueur.
But what happens when what was shocking becomes old hat?
That’s the predicament that “Loot” finds itself in - not because the play isn’t successful but because in the intervening decades this mode of shock-the-system comedy not only went mainstream, it literally changed what we find shocking. That, in fact, was part of the original point.
The play hasn’t lost it’s punch, we’ve just moved the target - by a lot.
Some of this has to do with the play’s particular *British-ness*. The particular jabs at the Catholic church will likely feel more than a little remote. The dead body jokes - of which there are more than a few - are shocking but part of a long lineage that now includes such classics as, forgive the blasphemy, “A Weekend at Bernie’s.”
And the final tableau of a trio of lovers connected by the radical bisexual man who connects them? Maybe that’s the clearest sign that plays like “Loot” move cultures forward.
So what do you do when the audience has changed and the play hasn’t?
With a production this good - you watch to remember how art can change culture - sometimes by boldly poking it in the eye to help it see more clearly.
“Loot” plays at the Odyssey Theatre in West LA through August 10th.
For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.