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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Theatre Studies Senior Company performs Orton’s “What the Butler Saw

Joining the discussion of gender, sexuality, and social restraint that started this semester with the theatre studies department’s production of Cloud Nine, the Senior Theatre Studies Company will be giving a self-directed performance of Joe Orton’s sex farce “What the Butler Saw” for their thesis production. The performances are scheduled for April 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. in Sternberger Auditorium, and there is no admission fee. Divided in two acts, the play is set in the psychiatric office of Dr. Prentice. Driven by a thinly veiled penchant for mixing business with pleasure, Prentice winds up in a heap of hilarious confusion when an interview with prospective secretary Geraldine Barclay takes a turn for the absurd with the entrance of Mrs. Prentice – who we find to have sexual indiscretions of her own.

With this comes a game of spousal deception involving bizarre sexual situations, identity confusion, near nudity, and strangely enough, part of a statue of Sir. Winston Churchill.

“By setting the play in a psychiatric office – which is a venue of analysis in and of itself – Orton seemed to be inviting a greater analysis of the conventions of British society,” said Jacob Martin, who plays Dr. Rance, an inspector from the British Medical Association sent to investigate Prentice’s dubious practice.

“The final chapters of my book are knitting together,” says Rance after he decides his findings in Prentice’s office are publishable, “Incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac.”

Written by Orton in his prime in the late 1960s, “What the Butler Saw” was initially ill received by mainstream audiences for the way it used sexual impropriety to poke fun at positions of authority – especially those in the field of psychiatry. By 1970 however, it earned an Obie Award for the best foreign off-Broadway play in New York. Tragically, Orton’s jealous lover bludgeoned him to death before he could enjoy the play’s successes.

Comparable to the work of Oscar Wilde, “What the Butler Saw” uses conventional forms to reach unconventional ends, questioning the idea of what constitutes “normalcy” with a subtext that insinuates incest, homosexuality, and all manners of sexual exploration in the lives of “everyday people.”

“This play is completely beyond sexual orientation,” said Sean Finan, who plays the role of Dr. Prentice. “My character, for instance, is searching for the ultimate orgasm – regardless of whether it’s from a man or a woman.”

“Like Wilde, Orton uses traditional forms in order to be subversive,” said stage manager and dramaturge Clare Davis.

Unlike Wilde, who playfully poked fun at society from the inside, Orton was an outsider who had a frank disgust for the society of his day, making “What the Butler Saw” the roaring farce that it is.

“What makes this play so brilliant is that while at a first glance it seems outrageously improbable, it is really dealing with the real problems of real people,” Finan said.

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