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at Malibu Stage Company

Mr. Sloane is the sometimes charming, sometimes evil cynosure of the late Joe Orton's conflicted characters in one of the most groundbreaking black comedies of the angry-young-playwrights movement of the 1960s in England. What had people screaming in the aisles in the '60s scarcely raises an eyebrow in the 21st century, when virtually anything goes, on stage and off—where to expose is human; to nauseate, divine. What remains in director Charles Marowitz's revival of this pitch-black comedy are the unholy wit of the British bad boy of theatre, his superb talent, and his brutally vicious humor.

In this upscale production, set designer John Iacovelli's exceptional, dirt-colored garbage-dump backdrop gives a philosophical nod to the members of this odd wedding—and to the location of their home, next to a trash heap.

An actor with a lot of colors, the riveting Nicolas Levene plays Mr. Sloane, an appetizing but feckless East Ender who wheedles his way into landlady Kath's goodwill and sex dreams. Caroline Langford is bloody marvelous as Kath, the infantilized lady of the house, a mewling child-woman with a cotton-candy brain and a bosom full of desire who falls for her lodger's fictive tales of maternal abandonment and co-opts the position of mom, along with lusty and age-inappropriate seduction. Kath's brother, Ed (Ethan Flower in a sturdy performance), passing as straight, gets similar warm feelings for the lodger. Complicating the sexually charged, farcically dimwitted household is Kemp (Clement Von Franckenstein), the crusty, befuddled old dad who knows something about Mr. Sloane that could be dangerous for everyone's health. Tragedy lurks. Lies, violence, and highly questionable activity are the best defense.

The play is a high-tension workout for wild characters and splendid actors—mentally, morally, and physically. This is definitely not a family show. As things get malignant, misogyny, misanthropy, hypocrisy, perversion, corruption, depravity, and a huge helping of prurience step in to make this a naughty, sometimes too nasty trudge through a polluted bog, though Orton's in-your-face, insightful writing is directorially staged with grace, high energy, and wit.

Presented by and at Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Aug. 3-26. (310) 589-1998.

Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner

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