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'Butler' a wild, ribald social farce

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, Salt Lake Community College Black Box Theatre, through Nov. 12 (957-3322). Running time: one hour, 40 minutes (no intermission).

This 1969 sex farce, which stirred quite an uproar when it debuted in London, still packs a fairly high level of raunchiness today, even for audiences who've become accustomed to an increasing amount of adult fare on stage and screen.

Before the action starts, patrons in Salt Lake Community College's intimate Black Box Theatre hear a few refrains from satirist-composer Tom Leher's "Masochism Tango," very fitting for a comedy that finds six characters verbally dancing through an explosive land mine of endless sexual and racial taboos.

This is the Marx Brothers Meet the Kinseys.

Director Frank Gerrish has an energetic cast of both students and SLCC faculty.

Hank Pond and Reb Fleming play Dr. and Mrs. Prentice, a couple bent on outdoing each other in their tireless pursuits of infidelity.

He's a psychologist whose office at a state asylum has a strange "examination room" alcove with a large, exotic bed, seductive lighting and even a mirror-encrusted disco ball overhead.

She's a member of a lesbian witches' coven, but enjoys frequent forays into liaisons with men, most recently in the linen closet at the Station Hotel.

Entering this wild fray are Dr. Rance, a government hospital inspector, played to the hilt by Nathan Smith Jones; Geraldine Barclay, a young orphan girl seeking a job as secretary at Prentice's hospital (her typing skills are the least of what he's looking for), played by Corinne Penka; and Nicholas Beckett, a hotel bellhop sought by the cops for various sexual escapades, played by Matt Whittaker.

Beckett also has his own agenda: provocative photographs of Mrs. Prentice, suitable for blackmailing.

Sgt. Match, an Irish London bobby who has the misfortune to be called to investigate, is played by Tim Maness.

The entire cast is superb, more than up to the task of delivering hilarious, physically intense comedy and rapid-fire dialogue.

The playbill doesn't credit anyone with the costuming, which ranges from business attire to Fredericks of Hollywood.

Playwright Joe Orton, who was brutally slain by his homosexual lover before this play was first produced, has been compared to Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. But where Wilde and Coward's wit was more genteel, Orton delivers his social and political commentary with a well-aimed sledge hammer.

Sensitivity rating: The "Three Rs" here are raunchy, ribald and racy. There is no profanity and no nudity, but there is plenty of outrageous, graphic sexual content. Definitely not for the youngsters. Quite a few adults might be offended as well.


E-mail: ivan@desnews.com