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Theater Review - Swinging England

If you're on the prowl for an exuberantly horny satyr in the guise of an Englishman from the 1960s, don't even think about Austin Powers. Georgia Shakespeare Festival's What the Butler Saw proves that playwright Joe Orton can still get it up, despite the inconvenience of being dead since 1967.

Like some bastard son of Oscar Wilde and Benny Hill, Orton blends eloquent epigrams and naughty slapstick. Butler opens with lascivious psychiatrist Dr. Prentice (Brad Sherrill) trying to take advantage of his new secretary (Park Krausen). But a bullying government official (Bruce Evers) and Prentice's unfaithful wife (Carolyn Cook) repeatedly catch him in compromising positions and force him to concoct brazen lies.

Butler's plot makes room for a blackmailing bellhop (Joe Knezevich), a befuddled policeman (Allen O'Reilly), male and female cross-dressers, and flashes of underwear and nudity. Innuendos even lace the insults: Prentice sneers to his spouse, "You were born with your legs apart. They'll bury you in a Y-shaped coffin." By Butler's end, the play reaches zany heights of anarchy as doctors with guns chase scantily clad patients and vice versa.

Director Sabin Epstein takes awhile to get the show airborne and doesn't always keep it aloft — at times the action feels as clinical as Prentice's white lab coat — but Epstein and the actors appreciate the playwright's timing and language, qualities that escaped recent Orton farces at Actor's Express and Dad's Garage. Cook delights in the musicality of her arch English accent, and doesn't deliver her lines so much as sing them. As Prentice, Sherrill grows increasingly frantic the harder he tries to maintain a facade of normalcy. Krausen and Knezevich each amusingly play bimbos of both genders.

Butler makes light of attempted rape and suppressed memory disorders, like a timely parody of Dr. Phil-era psychology, and Orton would take pride in the play's incorrectness. It never gets so raunchy that you'll feel awkward making eye contact with your fellow theater-goers. Instead, What the Butler Saw titillates just enough to put an extra spring in your go-go boots.

What the Butler Saw plays through Aug. 6 at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, 4484 Peachtree Road. Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 8 p.m. $20-$35. Call 404-264-0020. www.gashakespeare.org.