Monday, November 26, 2007


The Book: Joe Orton, THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF JOE ORTON. Grove Press paperback, fifth printing, 1982. Fair condition; spine is badly creased, pages are age-browned, extensive highlighting throughout "Loot." Signature "Ellen Lamb" on front flyleaf.
First read: 1982
Owned since: 1982

Does anyone remember Joe Orton? He was the toast of London in the 1960s -- brilliant, angry, handsome, gay -- and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, beat him to death with a hammer in 1967. John Lahr's excellent biography, Prick Up Your Ears, became an equally good film in 1987. This book collects the work of Orton's short life: the three plays that still get performed (Loot, What the Butler Saw, and Entertaining Mr. Sloane) with the lesser-known The Ruffian on the Stair, The Good and Faithful Servant, The Erpingham Camp, and Funeral Games.

A river of rage runs through these plays, which are officially comedies. All older characters are fools; all government officials are corrupt; crime pays, and the innocent are punished. The plays are so rooted in the social change of the time that they're seldom revived, and modern American audiences don't have the background information to understand them as Orton intended.

But if Joe Orton is now considered only a minor playwright, he's a major figure in my own life, and this book might be the single most important in my collection. I played Fay, the murderous nurse, in a Mask & Bauble production of Loot at Georgetown in 1983, and fell in love with one of my castmates. I could say that it didn't end well, but that would be a lie. Christopher Bea turns 24 today, and has Joe Orton to thank for his humble beginnings. Not that Joe Orton is any kind of a role model...

Today is also the birthday of my younger sisters, Peggy and Susan, my brother Ed, and my dear friend Doyle Bartlett. Happy birthday, one and all.

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