Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Ross Valley Players Presents an Audience Friendly Sly Fox

Also see Richard's review of The Mystery Plays

David Alan Moss
Ross Valley Players, one of the oldest semi-professional theatres in the Bay Area, is currently presenting an over-the-top production of Larry Gelbart's Sly Fox, under the capable direction of Phoebe Moyer. The play is based on Ben Jonson's Volpone, written in 1605, a staple of the French theatre since the 17th century. Fox updated the film in 1967 with Rex Harrison playing the avaricious old man whose god was greed. In fact, as the greedy man says, "his deity is God spelled with an "L."

Television comedy writer Larry Gelbart revised the classic for the Broadway stage, updating it to end-of-the-nineteenth-century San Francisco. This marks the fourth time I have seen this fast-paced, bawdy farce and the first time I have seen a mounting by a semi-professional company. I have seen George C. Scott, Richard Dreyfuss and Jackie Gleason play the voracious "invalid." The farce is rarely performed by regional or community theatre companies since it needs the firm hand of a good director who can keep the yuks coming fast and furious. Director Phoebe Moyer has succeeded, and has made the comedy an audience friendly farce.

Foxwell J. Sly (David Alan Moss), a devious miser in our fair city, exploits humanity's bottomless thirst for money to gratify his own neverending greed. He devises a plan with the help of his loyal servant Simon Able (Wendell H. Wilson) to pretend that he is dying so he can bilk a series of wealthy friends to obtain further tributes of jewels and gold with a promise to leave his fortune to each of them. Foxwell's greed has no bounds; he even gets one of his dearest friends, Abner Truckle (Bruce Vieira), to turn over his virtuous wife for a little fun in the sack. Also he gets the old even more miserly Jethro Crouch (Alex Ross) to disinherit his son Captain Crouch (Thom Calandra) and put Foxwell's name as the heir to his fortune.

Sly Fox contains several hilarious scenes, including one with Abner Truckle's righteous wife Mrs. Truckle (Jennifer Reimer) attempting to give a rise in "spirits" to the fake death bed scene of Foxwell. Both actors play this very funny scene to the hilt. All of the actors cut loose in the raucous scene in the courtroom in the second act when Sly is brought up on charges of lechery by the son of Jethro Crouch. In prior productions I have seen, the judge in the scene is played by the same headliner who plays Sly. However, in this case Phoebe Moyer has Christopher Hammond playing the judge. It's a scene straight out of a Marx Brothers comedy with Hammond doing a fine portrayal of a hanging judge.

David Alan Ross plays Foxwell J. Sly as a subtler character than typically presented. However, he has a devilish rakishness about him as he plays the role a little like Groucho Marx. He also has some of the most philosophical lines, such as "Never think too little of people. There's always a less to be thought," or, "There's nothing like dying," as he says to his loyal servant.

Wendell H. Wilson makes a good straight man as the scheming indebted servant. He is able to keep the action moving with his very good theatrical voice. Outstanding is Alex Ross playing the dotty, decrepit Jethro Crouch. His movements and voice dominate every scene in which he appears. His walk reminds me of Tim Conway playing the doddering man in the old "Carol Burnett Show." Bruce Vieira tends to be a little too robust as Abner Truckle. He has a tendency to yell in the scene involving his wife prior to visiting the "ailing" Shy. However, in the second act, he gets more into the character. Alan Bruce as the lawyer Craven is often amusing although he has not been able to flesh out the character of a shifty lawyer. Perhaps as the production continues he will be able to make more of the role.

There is little for the female characters to do in this fast-paced, farcical comedy. Adrianna Dinihanian as the prostitute who wants to marry Sly is good and has the figure to play the role. She is especially fine in a scene in which she shows a diamond pennant that is lodged between two very big breasts to feeble Crouch - it is straight out of an old time burlesque act. Jennifer Reimer as Mrs. Truckle is wonderful in the naughty scene with Sly. The two bring down the house in raucous laughter.

Norman A. Hall nearly steals the scenes as the Chief of Police who loves to hear the impish words of sexual acts. Mr. Hall's expression is priceless as he hears about naughty doings going on. Christopher Hammond makes the most of his role as the hanging judge and is straight out of the old comedy series "Laugh In."

Tom Calandra making his first stage appearance as Captain Crouch needs to tone down his farcical performance. As he gets more into the role, he probably will simmer down and not be so exuberant in the role. Maureen O'Donogue and Victoria Lee Williams have the small roles of Sly's servants and do what they can with these characters. Their giddiness could be toned down just a mite. Victoria Lee Williams is very good as the slow-minded court reporter. Her timing is perfect in that small role.

Steve Coleman has designed an excellent detailed set on the very long stage. Center stage, he has appointed the bedroom of Sly with a lot of great nick knacks of the period, and uses extreme stage right and left for smaller scenes showing the parlors of Crouch and Truckle. In the second act, stage right becomes a bar in San Francisco doubling as a court room. Costumes by Alison Morris are spot on; however, the "naval" costume worn by Tom Calandra looks a little too much like something out of a Victor Herbert operetta. Director Phoebe Moyer has kept the two and half hour production moving at a fast pace.

Sly Fox continues at the Ross Valley Playhouse located at the Marin Garden Center just off Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Ross through February 19th. The company's next production will be Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy running from March 17 through April 23rd. For tickets to this production please call 415-456-9555 .

Photo: Ron Severdia

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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