Not Nearly Sly Enough
Cottage Theatre does its best with an unfortunate script
by Anna Grace
Sounds like a really great idea: Author Larry Gelbart (of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and M*A*S*H fame) rewrites Ben Johnson’s 1606 satirical masterpiece Volpone as a farce for modern audiences. If you’re wondering why you never heard of Sly Fox, though, wonder no longer.
Taking a satire and turning it into a farce strikes me as a bad idea. Why dumb down? The obvious replaces the witty at every turn, even the naming of the title character: Devilish mastermind Volpone (Italian for fox) is changed into Foxwell J. Sly. Subtle, no? Setting it in a fictionalized olde West San Francisco cinches the descent. Gelbart succeeds in sucking all the brainy fun out of Volpone and replacing it with a hard whack from a slapstick across our collective foreheads.
If we can accept that the script is flawed, and that Gelbart’s editor was spineless, what is to be done with it? Some of the lines are just too funny not to be said in front of an audience. Cottage Theater does Sly Fox as well as anyone could expect, and director Reva Kauffman pulls the best out of the piece.
Kauffman’s first step towards redeeming this script was to cast the versatile Kory Weimer as Simon Able, Foxwell’s quick-witted, slick talking servant. He returns much of the style and sharpness lost in Gelbert’s translation. Larry Brown is delightfully fussy as Lawyer Craven, and I couldn’t wait for scene stealing Martin Brown (the chief of police) to come back on stage. Kauffman chose to cast David Kessler as the Judge despite the fact that he was already busy busting out the lead role. This was clever and in keeping with the play’s production history, and Kessler performed it well, but this casting choice distracts from the action at hand.
There are moments of sheer brilliance in this play, but between them the action plods. Although the audience laughed a lot, the laughter did not roll and build as it does in a truly great comedy.
Watching this play did inspire me to snuggle up with a copy of Volpone sometime in the next week and to add a couple of episodes of M*A*S*H to my Netflix queue. But it is unlikely that I will pair the two activities.
Sly Fox continues through Sunday, June 27. Tix at cottagetheatre.org and (541) 942-8001.