There have been few playwrights like Joe Orton.
“He’s working class, he’s gay and he’s an ex-con,” says Emma Parker. “How many playwrights do you know that come from that background?”
Orton’s work — generally sexually charged and provocative black comedies for stage and TV — has been nearly as shortchanged in society as was his life, given an untimely, tragic death at age 34 at the hands of his partner, Kenneth Halliwell. In just five years, Orton produced several major plays, an un-produced screenplay for the Beatles, and pioneered a style of tragic comedies that has come to be known as “Ortonesque.”
“All of his plays are laugh-out-loud funny,” says Parker, who specializes in post-war British literature and contemporary fiction and works with Leicester University’s Joe Orton Archives. “But they can be quite uncomfortable as well — they’re quite violent.”
Currently, The Edge of the Universe Players 2 is attempting to give Orton his due by offering a Stephen Jarrett-led production of his first play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, based on a 50th anniversary version published by Parker last year. When it was first produced, the work “was compared to Jane Austen for its satirical insight into the lies that society likes to tell itself.” The focus is on a working-class family and two adult siblings — a brother and sister, both sexually repressed — who wind up competing for the affections of the alluring, sexually flexible title character. “It’s psychologically complex with a really sad undertone,” Parker says.
Parker is helping to plan several Orton-related events over the next two years — especially in 2017, which will mark 50 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in the U.K.
Says Parker, “I think Orton’s plays still have something very interesting to say to us [regarding] what you have to do and how you have to behave to be accepted by society.”
Entertaining Mr. Sloane runs to Dec. 13, at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., in Bethesda. Tickets are $22 to $25. Call 202-355-6330 or visit universeplayers2.org.
Also, special discounts for Entertaining Mr. Sloane may still be available.
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