It may not rank up there with Bill Cosby recording the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or William Burroughs recording with Sonic Youth, but it was still a stretch when Larry Gelbart, the writing mind behind M*A*S*H, Tootsie, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forumand other top-shelf commodities, turned for inspiration to Ben Jonson's 1605 masterful satire on greed, Volpone.
The result was Sly Fox, a funny, tough-minded farce about a rapacious miser and the three greedy opportunists trying to get his money. It's a sharp play, filled with zinging one-liners and plenty of laughs. It's also an extremely demanding—and unforgiving—choice for any theater company. It requires razor-sharp timing and a bigger-than-life comedic presence that this Golden West College production doesn't always capture.
Our hero is Sly Foxwell, the kind of businessman who kept his first dollar and just went on collecting more. By feigning imminent death, Sly is now intent on stealing the fortunes of three men who are hell-bent on claiming his. Sly is so unrepentantly slick in his swindling we find ourselves rooting for him to get away with just one more caper, primarily because his marks are equal lowlifes who, unlike Sly, are more than happy to cloak themselves in the respectability of wealth, power and law.
Director Tom Amen nails the comic rhythm Gelbart's script requires, and Sigrid Hammer Wolf's impressive sets are a match for his killer name. The cast, while young, is admirably game and, half the time, stands up to the rather demanding material.
Nick Cook as Sly and Mark Bedard as Sly's ignoble henchman are convincingly joyous in their finagling. Christian Navarro, Bruce Alexander and Michael Bielitz are delightfully inept fall guys, whom we wind up booing, even though Sly is a far more sinister figure.
Who we root for is the most interesting aspect of Gelbart's play. Sly may not be the lesser of two evils, but he's certainly the more likable, proving Honore de Balzac's point in Mercadetthat readers—and theatergoers—adore rascals because they add the excitement we yearn for in our daily lives and because they make our sins look like mere peccadilloes. In Gelbart's comic universe, greed is good as long as it's absolute. Which isn't too different from the so-called real world.
Sly Fox at Golden West College's Mainstage Theatre, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach, (714) 895-8150. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. $8.50-$10.50.