Originally written for radio in 1964, Joe Orton's "The Ruffian on the Stair" proves a somewhat checkered inaugural production for the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood. A brief but action-packed one-act, Orton's compact and black-edged comedy bristles with a more overt street sensibility than Orton's full-length works, which employ petit bourgeois characters of the most venal stripe to skewer notions of middle-class respectability.
Respectability, even as outward show, is in short supply in "Ruffian," which features a petty criminal, a former whore and a mysterious stranger in a volatile, funny and ultimately deadly triangle. Mike (Chris Byrne), a shady sort who hobnobs with his various "clients" in public restrooms, feels an overriding contempt for his prostitute lover Joyce (Angela McCluskey) that is rivaled only by his startling need for her. The mysterious Wilson (Joseph Rye) singles Joyce out as a seemingly random target of a malicious terror campaign. But when Mike invites the young vandal into his home, Wilson's hidden agenda unfolds, to tragic effect.
Production designer Ron Meyers' run-down set captures the stop-gap surroundings of life on the margin, although his on-and-off lighting is strictly rudimentary. The staging is similarly checkered. In the opening scenes, director Steve Starosta favors jerky pauses, perhaps intended to pass for Pinteresque internalization. The effect, at least initially, is unfortunately staccato.