Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Hilarious Farce ‘What the Butler Saw’ at STNJ


The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey premiered this past weekend a wonderful, wild, wicked British farce What the Butler Saw by playwright Joe Orton. If you remember the 1950 British Hammer film of the same name….forget it….this is a totally different racy plot. This fun fare is so very different it doesn’t even have a butler! It all starts when Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist attempts to interview an attractive young secretary, Geraldine. Part of his unique interview style involves her undressing fully! For a secretarial position! His motive (need we explain?) is to seduce this innocent, naïve young lady. However, he is surprised by his wife, quickly he hides the girl (what else could he do?).

From there on the plot takes on bits of the Marx Brothers slamming door antics and the best of British sex comedies, think Jumpers and Please, No Sex We’re British. Orton who died tragically before the play was produced in 1969, concocted a bizarre tale that moves on every word….nary one wasted word. He presents us with infidelity, blackmail, semi-nudity, mistaken identity, and truth well twisted in a rapid-fire format.

Enough about the plot beyond identifying the characters and actors. Note even though the title is What the Butler Saw there is no such participant and this production, directed by STNJ veteran Paul Mullins is simply hilarious.

Butler7It is a perfect combination of script, direction and spot-on casting. In the key role of the oversexed Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist, is Peter Simon Hilton (far right) in his second year with the STNJ. New to the company this season is Vanessa Morosco (left). She delights as the good (?) doctor’s wife. She just happens to be playing opposite her real-life husband. The young woman, Geraldine Barclay, who will never forget this job interview, is played to perfection by Allison Layman.

John Hutton (center above), also new to the STNJ, has possibly the most fun in his role as the government official, Dr. Rance, who is making a surprise visit to the clinic. The main reason for his visit is to evaluate Prentice and his methods, but, is he a candidate for psychiatric evaluation himself ? Rance offers an interesting observation: “civilizations have been founded and maintained on theories which refused to obey facts.”

Remember when hotels had bellhops? What the Butler Saw has one, the young Nicholas Beckett played by a fine young actor, Robbie Simpson. Simpson literally bares all for his art.

Evidently, a London policeman’s helmet has more than a single purpose. Ok, we can be fairly accused of being cheeky.

Butler5The sixth member of the cast….a policeman, in fact, is Jeffrey M. Bender. This veteran of 18 seasons at the STNJ, is a joy as the easily confused Sergeant March. His drug induced antics minus his uniform is a highlight of the play.

What the Butler Saw is a perfect date night, what more can we say than it is great fun. Silly, of course, don’t go looking for logic in the madcap proceedings. Sit back enjoy the laughs.

Note; the STNJ cautions that the play may not be suitable for young audiences due to moments of partial undress and shots fired from a blank gun. Although it was considered very naughty in 1969 London, it is tame by todays, anything-goes, standards.

We should acknowledge the fine creative staff of Paul Mullins. Included are: scenic designer Brittany Vasta; Kristin Isloa costumes; Tony Galaska lighting; Steven L. Beckel sound; Alison Cote production stage manager; Emilia Martin wigs.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 9, 2017

This is the first Joe Orton play to be produced at The Shakespeare Theatre, something Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte is very excited about. “Set in a veritable madhouse, Joe Orton’s masterpiece farce provides the perfect comedic response to our current world, one in which we find ourselves questioning our sanity or that of others on a daily basis,” she said.

Tickets for this production can be purchased at or by calling the Box Office at 973-408-5600. Performances of What the Butler Saw will run until at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre located at 36 Madison Ave, Madison, New Jersey.


Tickets for What the Butler Saw can be purchased at or by calling the Box Office at 973-408-5600. The Theatre is proud to bring back its successful 30 UNDER 30 programs for the 2017 season. Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets, patrons can call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey offers various cost-saving opportunities, including a Bank of America customer discount,  $15 student rush tickets, which are available 30 minutes prior to each performance, with a valid student ID, and a limited number of Pay What You Can tickets on a first come, first serve basis.

Special Performances:

For the same price as a regular ticket, the Symposium Series performances offer a post-show discussion with the cast and artistic staff. For What the Butler Saw, the symposia will be held after the following performances: September 12 at 7:30 pm., Saturday, September 16 at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday, September 23 at 2 pm.

The Know the Show pre-show talks are offered free-of-cost. Prior to the show, an artist from the Shakespeare Theatre presents a talk providing background information and an inside perspective on the production. This program is free with the purchase of a performance ticket, and for What the Butler Saw will be held on Thursday, September 14 at 7:00 p.m., with the show beginning at 8:00 p.m. The Know the Show pre-show talk will also be broadcast live, free of charge, on the company’s Facebook page.


September 6 – October 1

Post-Show Symposium Performances: Tuesday, September 12 at 7:30 pm.; Saturday, September 16 at 2 pm.; Saturday, September 23 at 2 pm.

Know the Show: Thursday, September 14 at 7 pm.; curtain at 8 pm.

Remaining Performances:

Tuesdays (7:30 p.m.): September 12, 19, and 30

Wednesdays (7:30 p.m.): September 13, 20, and 27

Thursdays (8:00 p.m.): September 14, 21, and 28

Fridays (8:00 p.m.): September 15, 22, and 29

Saturdays (2:00 p.m.): September, 16, 23, and 30

Saturdays (8:00 p.m.): September 16, 23, and 30

Sundays (2:00 p.m.): September 17, 24, and October 1

Sundays (7:30 p.m.); September 17, and 24

For tickets and information: Call 973-408-5600 or visit

photos by Jerry Dalia

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