By John Quinn
Review: ‘Sly Fox’
Boisterous Hilberry comedy shows ‘greed is good’
Lies! Avarice! Lust! Deceit! No, we’re not talking about Jack Abramoff and his merry band on Capitol Hill. This is “Sly Fox,” Larry Gelbart’s homage to Ben Jonson’s 1605 social satire, “Volpone” (“The Fox”), which itself was inspired by the low-brow high jinks of commedia del arte. But some things never change, and this exposure of “the underbelly of human nature” rings as true today as it did for theater patrons 400 years ago
Larry Gelbart is perhaps best known for “Tootsie” and for “M*A*S*H,” both film and TV series. But fans of early television know that he wrote for the likes of Sid Caesar and George Burns in the Golden Age of Comedy. Thus it comes as no surprise that he would imbue this distinctly American comedy with an air of vaudeville, the fertile ground that nourished the new electronic media. It’s as full of one-liners as a Congressman’s wallet is stuffed with contributions.
Our “hero,” Foxwell J. Sly, is a miser and a swindler. Abetted by Simon Able, his indentured servant and apprentice in mischief, he’s in the middle of his biggest con yet – bilking more gifts and favors from his clueless victims by pretending to be dying. The equally greedy marks each hope to be named sole heir in the will. They include shady lawyer Craven, the wizened Crouch, his accountant, Truckle and the self-described – ahem – “pleasure engineer,” Miss Fancy (if you’re catching on to Gelbart’s names, don’t blame him; Jonson started it). The plot becomes a test of will, to see just how low a man (or woman) will stoop when money is involved. I’m not giving anything away when I report that Sly can safely exclaim, “Gold! God with an ‘L!'”
The rep company plays these devious deviants with an unrestrained delight. Mike Metzel sets the tone as miserly Foxwell Sly, yet throws caution to the wind in his second act turn as the magistrate presiding at Sly’s trial for his crimes. Confused? It’s screwball comedy, folk! Getting the defendant into court is for the real world! With Metzel’s oversized wig and oversized gavel, we’re only missing a chorus of “Here comes da Judge!” to set up the burlesque to come.
A nod and a wink, also, to Patrick Moltane as Able; at ease with the playwright’s sense of humor, he’s finding the “funny” in his lines.
Another nod goes to Megan Callahan, the pure and overly-pious Mrs. Truckle, who delineates the character largely through vocal technique.
It’s Christopher M. Bohan, however, who earns a lot of attention as the elderly Crouch. His costume, make-up and exaggerated walk are all over-the-top, and he’s providing much of the visual shtick in this very literate comedy. One can speculate if every character was played this broad, would the comedy have been sharper, or would the plot have collapsed under the weight of excess farce?
In his notes,Director David J. Magidson quotes an old theater adage – “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” What you’ve got here is a talented cast released from the strictures of more serious theater and allowed to run with unconventional characters. They’re clearly having fun, and the humor is infectious. But I’m reminded of yet another old saw, “In comedy, timing is everything.” When it’s clicking, the laughs just flow; when it’s not – we can wait for the next gag.
“Sly Fox” plays in repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through March 30. Tickets: $15-$28. For information: 313-577-2972 or http://www.hilberry.com.
The Bottom Line: The gags come thick and fast in this rambunctious comedy, and the cast is clearly enjoying the romp.
Professional Theater News from Around Town:
Compiled by Donald V. Calamia
Performance of ‘Annie’ to benefit Michigan Humane Society
DETROIT – America’s most beloved musical, “Annie,” and Nederlander Detroit will donate $10 to the Michigan Humane Society for each ticket purchased using the special code DOG for the Friday, Feb. 24 performance at 8 p.m.
Tickets for the benefit performance can be purchased through Feb. 24
“Annie” – the musical that inspires each new generation to never give up hope – is back with an all new production at Detroit’s Masonic Temple Theatre, Feb. 21-26.
The timeless tale of Little Orphan Annie stars Conrad John Schuck and Mackenzie Phillips, with newcomer Marissa O’Donnell in the title role. With one of the most treasured scores in Broadway history, “Annie” is a delightful theatrical experience for the entire family.
Ticket prices for the Detroit engagement range from $19.50-$64.50 and are now on sale at the Fisher Theatre Box Office. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 248-645-6666, online at http://www.NederlanderDetroit.com or at http://www.ticketmaster.com.
For more information, call 313-872-1000 or visit http://www.NederlanderDetroit.com.
Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Delirium’ turns music into motion
DETROIT – Cirque du Soleil presents “Delirium,” its first-ever live arena event. The North American Tour stops at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena at 8 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 after kicking off in Montreal Jan. 26 at the Bell Center.
Created and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, “Delirium” is a multifaceted event of unprecedented proportion featuring Cirque du Soleil music remixed. Driven by an urban tribal beat and awe-inspiring visuals, the arena will be transformed into joyous frenzy by musicians, singers and dancers.
“Delirium” is the quest for balance in a world that is increasingly out of sync with reality. It pushes the limit of arena performance through technical magnitude, human introspection and creative prowess. It is an urban tale, a state-of-the-art mix of music, dance, theatre and multimedia. Pumped by this re-energized Cirque du Soleil rhythm, the “Delirium” tour transports audiences into a universe of delirious sensory folly.
For the first time in Cirque du Soleil history, lyrics have been created for the instrumental tracks and real words integrated in place of invented language, bringing to the music a fresh poetic dimension. The texts are in English, French, Spanish, Wolof and Portuguese. Robbie Dillon, who contributed texts for Cirque du Soleil’s ZUMANITY, composed the English lyrics for “Delirium.”
In all, 21 of Cirque du Soleil’s most memorable musical moments – originally created by Rene Dupere, Benoit Jutras and Violaine Corradi – have been re-mixed by Quebec producer, composer and arranger Francis Collard, who deftly injects new life into these powerful classics. The result is a hyper-energizing urban tribal beat that explodes with electronic sounds, percussions and world rhythms.
Also for the first time, Cirque du Soleil musicians and singers will be center-stage as their music will be the driving force of this gigantic event.
This unique, large-scale event may be the most massive technical production ever created to tour arenas. A 130-foot, two-sided stage bisects the arena, submerging the audience in the huge set. Placing all this equipment into an arena is a complex puzzle normally reserved for stadiums.
Five-hundred forty feet of projections dominate the scene – the equivalent in width of almost four IMAX screens – setting the stage for a colossal multimedia presentation. Images projected range from prerecorded visuals to manipulated live feeds that create interactions between the show and the audience.
“Delirium” showcases 45 talented and multidisciplinary artists, eight of whom have collaborated with Cirque du Soleil in the past. Each artist has been selected for individual virtuosity. They include 11 musicians, six singers, 18 dancers, eight acrobats and two main characters. In all, 12 countries are represented in the troupe, including two Americans: Karl Baumann (Las Vegas) who portrays one of the main characters and dancer Alexandra Apjarova (New York).
Tickets range from $69.50 to $110). They may be purchased at the Joe Louis Arena and Fox Theatre box offices, Hockeytown Authentics in Troy and at all Ticketmaster locations, including Marshall Field’s.
To charge tickets by phone, call 248-645-6666 or purchase tickets online at http://CellarDoor.com or http://OlympiaEntertainment.com. For additional information, call 313-471-6611.
Loeb Trust awards grant to Flint Youth Theatre
FLINT – The Stella and Frederick S. Loeb Charitable Trust, administered by Citizens Bank, has awarded a $5,000 grant to Flint Youth Theatre (FYT) for its production of “Searching for David’s Heart.” This award-winning drama by Cherie Bennett is a part of FYT’s Signature Series produced by its professional resident company. Public performances and Learning Through Theatre school performances of this play will be presented through Feb. 25 at Elgood Theater.
“Searching for David’s Heart” centers on a young girl’s quest to find the recipient of her brother’s transplanted heart and the journey of self-discovery she experiences as a result. This drama will highlight ideas being explored in a three-year Human Genome Project, addressing recent advancements in genetics and medical science and their impacts on society.
Human Genome is a major Flint Cultural Center Corporation engagement project using dance, spoken word and other art forms to explore the awe-inspiring and sometimes frightening choices being created by modern medical science. Human Genome will culminate in the winter and spring of 2006 with a performance by the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, community workshops, presentation of commissioned works by local artists and a PBS documentary by Michigan Television.
In addition to staging “Searching for David’s Heart,” FYT will address many of the themes being developed through Human Genome through three additional productions: “A Number” by Caryl Churchill (a staged reading examining what happens to autonomous identity in a world where people can be cloned, to be performed March 19), “With Grace” by William P. Ward (an original production about a Flint woman who wrestles with issues of life and death, to be performed May 7 – 9) and “Frankenstein,” by Mary Shelley, adapted by Thomas W. Olson (a gothic thriller recounting a near-legendary story of unrestrained science and the quest to play God, to be performed July 21 – Aug. 5).
For more information, contact FYT at 810-237-1530.
Heartlande Theatre Co. to stage reading of ‘Weather’ at MBT
ROCHESTER – On Monday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Heartlande Theatre Company will present a staged reading of “Weather” by Australian playwright Gary Baxter. Directed by Mary E. Rychlewski, the cast includes local actors Phil Fox, Andrew Huff, Charlotte Nelson and Tiffany Michenor.
There will be a facilitated feedback session following the reading.
Playwright Baxter lives in Katoomba, Australia and is working with the Q theatre in Sydney for the world premiere production of “Weather.” The production opens next month at the Q, following a series of selected readings and workshops in London, Canada, Australia and Michigan. “The seamless exchange between past and present is poignant and revealing, and the play is at once tender and unsentimental” as quoted from the Young Vic Theatre in London.
Gary Baxter’s plays have been produced and developed internationally.
“We are excited to work on this play and provide information to Gary as he continues his development toward production.” said Rychlewski who will facilitate the feedback session.
“We’re really excited about the submissions we’ve been getting,” said HTC producer Jan Radcliff. “The scripts are well-written, and we’ve got a lot of very talented actors involved too. These evenings will not only be helpful to the playwrights but should be enormously entertaining for the audience as well.”
The reading will take place in the downstairs rehearsal room of Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. There is no cost to attend, however a suggested donation of $5 will be gratefully accepted.
For more information visit http://www.mbtheatre.com, http://www.heartlande.com or call the Meadow Brook Box Office at 248-377-3300.
Icarus Falling’s ‘Lake of Fire’ poster named Best in Show
LANSING -Icarus Falling’s poster promoting the world premiere of “Lake of Fire” by Graham Farrow was named Best In Show at the Lansing Advertising Club’s annual awards banquet.
The poster was designed by Chris VanWyck of Ciesa Design, who submitted the piece for consideration. VanWyck accepted the award on behalf of Ciesa Design and IF.
The poster was applauded for its clean design and multi-layered storytelling.
“It’s great to see Chris and Ciesa Design recognized for such outstanding work,” said IF Artistic Director jeff croff. “We gave him a brief description of the project and he delivered a piece that told a story on its own and provided a compelling invitation to our production. Chris’s design became an integral part of the storytelling experience as it subtly revealed detail after detail of the play with each return to the poster.”
For complete information about IF, log on to www.icarusfalling.com.
‘The High Priest of Bebop’ is alive in Detroit
DETROIT -An off-Broadway play resurrects the life of legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk at SereNgeti Galleries in Detroit on February 15 -19. In honor of African-American History month, the Jazz Network presents the one-man play “Monk” staring award-winning actor and director Rome Neal. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. at 2757 Grand River in Detroit.
Actor Rome Neal and writer Laurence Holder have merged their creative resources to bring back the “High Priest of Bebop.” Working from the well crafted script developed by Holder, Neal brilliantly captures the essence of the trend-setting musician and all his raw emotion. Both share producing and directing responsibilities to deliver the play that won The Audelco Award for best one-man play.
Bill Lee’s clever, unobtrusive music helps to remind us that Monk is one of the most inventive pianists of any musical genre. The composer for Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” and “Mo Betta’ Blues” has employed his considerable talents to demonstrate Monk’s musical vision that was both ahead of its time while deeply rooted in tradition. Jazz Critic Ron Scott said, “Bill Lee’s music is riveting and impressive.”
The Jazz Network Foundation provides showcase opportunities for musicians, training for youth and international cultural exchange; and presentations to the general public to advance and preserve jazz and the multi-cultural arts.
Tickets are $20 with artist discussions after each performance, a buffet , cash bar and valet parking. Tickets are available at the door or at Ticketmaster.
For more information, call 313-963-8099 or log on to http://www.jazznetwork.org.
From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:
‘Angels in America’ to be presented by LCC Performing Arts
LANSING – “The best American play in forty years,” wrote critic Craig Lucas about “Angels in America,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic opening Feb. 17 at Lansing Community College.
The LCC theatre program will present “Millennium Approaches,” the first in Tony Kushner’s two-part drama exploring love, loss and hope for the future in the age of Reagan politics and the exploding AIDS epidemic of the mid-1980s. Yet, “Angels is still prophetic in our post 9/11 world,” said director Diana Van Fossen.
Although the play is often double-cast so each actor performs multiple roles, Van Fossen opened the cast so more students could participate. The cast is made up primarily of current and recent LCC students, including Mike St. Cyr as Louis, J’esse Deardorff-Green as Prior Walter, Rammel Chan as Joe Pitt, Abby Murphy as Harper Pitt, Sineh Wurie as Belize, Sia Lewis as Nurse/The Angel, Molly Epstein as the Rabbi, Joyraj D’Souza as Mr. Lies, Dustin Craig as Martin Heller/Prior I, Jess Gearin as Sister Ella Chapter, Richard L Barnes, II as Prior II and Jacqueline Black as Woman in the Bronx. Community actors include Dave Dunckel as Roy Cohn, Jane Zussman as Hannah Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg, and Mark Zussman as Henry, Roy’s doctor.
Van Fossen is a guest artist with LCC for this production. She has directed for BoarsHead Theater, Water Works Theatre, Heartlande Theatre Company and Interlochen. She will direct “Trojan Women” for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in May and won last season’s Pulsar Award for directing “Comedy of Errors” at BoarsHead.
A career actress, Van Fossen was a member of England’s Royal Shakespeare Company, and she’s played leading roles off-Broadway and in regional theatres throughout the country. She was a Watson Fellow in European experimental theater before training at the UK’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
“Angels in America” is recommended for adult audiences; it contains explicit situations, adult language and some nudity.
“Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches” runs Feb. 17-25 in Dart Auditorium, 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m., Sunday Feb. 19. The matinee will be sign language interpreted.
General admission tickets are $10 adults, $5 students, seniors and LCC alumni. Advance tickets may be purchased at the Arts Tickets Box Office located in the Center for the Arts, 425 S. Grand Ave. in Lansing.
For more information, call the LCC Performing Arts Production Office at 517-483-1488.
Playwriting finalists present original one-acts at WSU Studio Theatre
DETROIT – At 8 p.m. Feb. 23-25 and March 2-4, Wayne State University’s Studio Theatre will showcase productions by winners of the Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Competition.
The “Heck-Rabi” competition is sponsored through the Departments of English and Theatre with the support of the Louise Heck-Rabi Endowed Scholarship in Dramatic Writing. Heck-Rabi was an active member of the Poetry Society of Michigan and founder of Downriver Poets and Playwrights. A Wayne State graduate, she completed her Ph.D. in English in 1976. Among her writings are “Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception” and “Rock the World,” a one-act comedy that was performed off-Broadway in 1973. Heck-Rabi was also a librarian and an assistant professor at Wayne State University.
To join the competition, student playwrights submit new works in late May to be judged by professionals. Five finalists are selected to move forward. At the beginning of the school year, students and playwrights from the Departments of Theatre and English, under the guidance of a guest facilitator, workshop staged readings of the top five plays.
This year three plays were chosen.
“The Milkman” was written by Ian Drife, an English student and second-year Heck-Rabi participant. Not your typical WWI-inspired story, “The Milkman” is a dark comedy that portrays the dramatic tension between one man’s love of his country and the possibility that that love could cost him his dignity.
“Sheepish Love,” by WSU student Justin Vidovic, is a horrific comedy where the test of unconditional love is at question.
“Drinks and Dancing,” by Hilberry graduate student Carly Germany, keeps the audience interested with a quirky story line: What do you get when you combine a married couple who share the same parents; their unwanted, yet at the same time desired, child; and a stranger? An exciting episode of a daytime talk show? No, you get a love story about family conflict and the struggle between good and evil.
The Studio Theatre is located downstairs from the Hilberry Theatre at 4743 Cass Avenue, at the corner of Cass and Hancock, in Detroit.
All three productions will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 23-25, and March 2-4. Admission is free.
For more information about the Louise Heck-Rabi Scholarship Playwriting finalists, call the Studio Theatre Box Office at 313-577-2972.