Rape, incest and the phallus of Sir Winston Churchill ““ three things which, combined, will take up about three minutes of stage time.
UCLA graduate student in theater Alan Patrick Kenny is directing Joe Orton’s unfinished first draft of the play “What the Butler Saw” at the Odyssey Theatre for his directorial debut in Los Angeles.
The draft was unfinished because Orton was bludgeoned in the head with a hammer by his lover at the age of 34.
According to Kenny, these circumstances presented difficulties in the initial stages of production.
“I had to do a lot of cutting and melding of different versions of it in order to get to what our text is,” Kenny said. “It needs that rewriting, and this one doesn’t have that opportunity because (Orton’s) lover killed him.”
The fast-paced play follows six characters frantically running around the stage, usually half-naked, all because of a man’s lie and his attempt to cover it up.
Though the premise is often explored, Kenny said that this play makes the issue of lying much more complex, and the result is a tangled farce that includes 150 entrances and exits within a two-hour period.
“I like to do things that are challenging. If it’s not challenging, then I have absolutely no interest in doing it,” Kenny said. “And that’s why I came back to school.”
Though Kenny already has a wealth of experience ““ including work as a director, artistic director and music director in Cincinnati ““ he said he wanted to go back to school in order to develop as a director with more classical training.
“A lot of programs wanted younger people who were more moldable, or have less professional experience than I did,” Kenny said. “But I knew how much I wanted to learn.”
Kenny said that not only does he want to learn, but he also wants to pass that knowledge on to others. According to his assistant director, second-year theater student Christopher Adams-Cohen, Kenny’s tutelage is invaluable.
“He lets me give input in rehearsals,” Adams-Cohen said. “He was very consciously letting it be a learning process for me.”
Kenny not only gave Adams-Cohen the opportunity to be an assistant director early in his undergraduate career, but he also turned to UCLA alumna Jennifer Lin to write an original score for the final half of the play.
According to Lin, she was introduced to Kenny by a professor in the theater department when she was hired to be the pianist for “The Music Man” ““ which he was the musical director for ““ during the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
“It was nice because we had that connection ““ we were both from UCLA,” she said. “It was nice to have people that you had some connection with in the middle of nowhere.”
Kenny said the music she composed for the show perfectly highlights the play’s dramatic finale.
According to Kenny, the play’s overexaggerated conclusion is Orton’s way of getting the audience to notice the hypocrisy of those in power, but getting the audience to laugh at it as well.
“He’s so angry at things that are hypocritical, and I have to say, I am the same way,” Kenny said. “I don’t presume to be political, … but I have to say reading this play gets me fired up at “˜the man’ and whatever that entails.”