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What the Butler Saw

a British Farce
by Joe Orton

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 979

SHOWING : June 25, 2004 - August 06, 2004



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Desperation and Reserve
by Dedalus
Monday, July 26, 2004
Someone (I think it was me) once asked, “What is more important for the successful production of a British Sex Farce – strong door frames or clean underwear?” Georgia Shakespeare Festival’s production of Joe Orton’s “What The Butler Saw” demonstrates that the answer may be “None of the Above.”

Farce, in general, is about desperation. Ordinary folks, usually through their own bad behavior, are thrust into situations that force them into more wild and absurd and desperate predicaments. British Farces in particular have the added level of that oh-so-calm British reserve getting thinner and thinner until it finally crumbles – the humor often lies in how desperately the main character holds on to that sense of reserve.

“What the Butler Saw” starts at a manic place – these are not “ordinary folks” – they are absurdly eccentric folks whose peccadilloes should have thrust them into manic farce many times. That it is only happening now is one of the play’s charms. Since it starts at such an absurd level, it builds to such an orgy of language and absurdity that there is nothing left to do but pull out every cliche in the book – and the situation gives really weird nuance to these cliches that I find hysterically funny. I’ve always loved this script!

The problem with the GSF production is that there is no urgency, no desperation, at least in the main character as played by Brad Sherrill. Maybe he was having an off-day, but I found him to be all reserve. Even when things are at their worst, he seems to react as if it’s no worse than a bad hair day. This didn’t come across as British Reserve covering panic – it came across as an actor “phoning in” a performance – there was never a hint of desperation, never a thought that this whole escapade was anything more than a typical day at the office.

This is a twofold shame. First, I’ve always been impressed with Mr. Sherrill’s work – maybe I was expecting something he didn’t want to give (and, to be fair, maybe it was because his reading of the play was substantially different from mine). Second, he was surrounded by a supporting cast who hit every note right (at least after the play got started – I found the pacing of the opening moments to be bit languid). Carolyn Cook and Park Krausen got that desperation/reserve contradiction almost perfect, and Bruce Evers, as the cause of most of the craziness, blithely bull-dozed his way though the play like a dervish, blissfully unaware of the effects his whirlwind and lopsided logic caused. And, in smaller roles, Joe Knezevich and Allen O’Reilly were as good as I’ve ever seen them.

For the record, the door-frames held up nicely and the underwear all seemed clean and comely. But without the desperation, too much of the play just felt, well, only half-crazy.

-- Brad Rudy (
Bull's eye! by green2u
You hit a homer with this review, Brad. I just saw the second to last show of WTBS and indeed Sherrill has chosen or been directed to play the role with such a lack of urgency. The rest of the actors were totally on the mark. And I was SHOCKED that this was the same Joe Knezevich that recently played Nick in Alliance's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I give him extra kudos for such versatility (literally and figuratively) onstage.


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