Friday, January 31, 2014

Finding Loot

I just got back from seeing Joe Orton's play Loot being performed by the Red Bull Theater Company. When it was first staged in the mid-1960s, the play was a scandal. Today, with the NSA and other law enforcers run amok, it seems oddly prescient.

Loot portrays the upstanding and God-fearing patriarch Mr. McLeavy as he prepares for the funeral of his recently deceased wife. His son Hal is accomplice to a bank robbery and hides the stolen money inside his mother's coffin. Black humor abounds, but the most disturbing element of the play is Truscott, an authority figure who claims to be from "The Water Board" but later admits to being a detective with the police. (This isn't a spoiler. It's pretty obvious.)

Truscott muscles his way into the McLeavy home and--completely without a warrant--bullies everyone into doing precisely what he wants. He makes a mockery of due process. Truscott claims the water board doesn't need a warrant, but then threatens (and sometimes inflicts) physical violence and dire legal actions if he doesn't get his way. All the while, poor old McLeavy keeps spouting aphorisms about respect for law and authority.

In addition to being a fascist (and that is not an exaggeration in Truscott's case) the detective is also incompetent and entirely corrupt. (Of course, most fascists are.) Truscott can only solve the case when it (quite literally) falls open right in front of him. And then he's just as happy to let the offenders off for a share in the loot.

A program note for this production draws parallels with the NSA, stop-and-frisk, and other debacles that have cost so many of the authorities their credibility. It seemed to me, however, that such connections were apparent without the note.

Even at the end, McLeavy seems to believe in the innate goodness of the British system. After watching Loot, one wonders if it is hopelessly naive to have that same faith in America's institutions.

If you want to see Loot, it's playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre until February 9th. You can find more information here:

Red Bull Theater