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Seeing Sly Fox

The Fox is Greedy, Sly, and Funny
Saturday, March 20 matinee preview

by Judith S.

Greed is the unnamed star of the new Broadway play, Sly Fox.

It is no wonder that one of Dante's circles of hell is devoted to the greedy. After seeing this play, I think Slywell J. Fox could almost have a circle devoted entirely to himself. He has accrued about himself a circle of sychophants, servants, and ne'er do wells who all live in hopeful anticipation of inheriting his riches upon his much-anticipated and renowned coming demise. He is a nasty villain, having reduced his hangers on to levels of mendacity and stupidity which he finds amusing and from which he hopes to observe new lows. Larry Gelbart's script is smart with lots of funny moments. Many of these funny moments happen without Sly -- or many of them when Sly is in the presence of the hopeful suitors for his riches whom he delights in setting against the others for his own amusement. Richard Dreyfuss, as Sly, is almost too wicked to be truly funny. He has his best moments as the hanging judge in the hilarious court room scene which takes up most of Act Two.

But the heart of this anti-morality play are René Auberjonois, Bob Dishy, and Bronson Pinchot. Each obnoxious in their own way, the machinations of these three to get Sly's prize are increasingly desperate. As bad as Sly is, as much as you might want to see if someone could defeat him, these combatants are so despicable that it is almost impossible to work up any sympathetic chord for their scheming -- with one notable exception. René Auberjonois's character, Jethro Crouch, is such a miserable old codger (having bragged of selling his wife's clothes after her death), such a wizened, bent, death-defying skeleton in a ragged shawl, that, at least the way René plays him, there is some level on which you know he knows that Sly is playing him. And he is going to figure a way to come out on top and outsmart Sly in the long run. He doesn't, and the moment when he realizes that he hasn't is one which brings the house down in hilarity.

And then there are two guys we love to hate. In this day of Enron, Imclone, and Tyco, we want to and do believe every villainy when ascribed to accountants and lawyers. Dishy and Pinchot sink the professions to a new level. And we laugh because there is clearly nothing that people like to do better than make fun of accountants and lawyers.

Bob Dishy is wonderfully slimey in his portrayal of a jealous husband who won't let his wife stand near a window for fear some man would see her, but is willing to pimp her to Sly to acquire a fortune. Dishy is all accountant. You can see him lying with figures and figuring with liars. And then there is Bronson Pinchot, pompous and reprehensible in his portrayal of Sly's lawyer, who would have made himself the heir in Sly's will long ago if he thought a court would let him get away with it. Pinchot plays him as crafty but not terribly bright (unforgiveable in the portrayal of a lawyer). Pinchot has a few moments in the courtroom scene which lead one to believe that he can sink to new levels which will make everyone in the audience remember why they hate lawyers (everyone else's, that is) but he is not there yet. And I guess that is what previews are for -- a sort of beta testing for the theatre.

Still and all, the combo of these three reprobates, Dishy, Pinchot, and Auberjonois, is what gives this show its life. When they are on the stage -- particularly René, who truly has two of the funniest moments in the show with some riveting comic business (one, his encounter with Rachel York's character, Miss Fancy, and two, his reaction upon learning that he is not the chosen heir) -- the play sparkles, the funny lines work, the audience is engaged and titillated. It is light, it is funny, and if you want deeper meanings in this age of greed, corporate criminal activity, and slippery ethics you can have that, too, from this play.

Definitely worth seeing and definitely enjoyable. One can hope the New York critics see it the same way and that the show has a long and successful run.

April 17 performance

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