In 1606, Ben Jonson's "Volpone," performed by the King's Men, opened in London and became a hit.
Last night, "Sly Fox," a witty, naughty modern version of the old comedy, opened at Catholic University's Hartke Theatre and deserves a similar fate.
A frolicson cast, milking every double entendre and farcical scene to the last laugh, has great fun with Larry Gelbart's comedy, which is updated from the 16-Century Venice of "Volpone" to the 1890s Gold Rush days in San Francisco.
The human greed remains the same Gelbart, who also reworked an old Roman comedy by Plautus into "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," has the same touch with "Sly Fox." On Broadway three seasons ago, George C. Scott played the title role of the conniver and lecher.
Unlike Jonson, Gelbert is not trying to impart a moral or mete out justice. Fox him, it is enough to watch the scalawags at work gulling each other.
The Hartke Theatre cast captures the spirit and carries off the comedy with style and wit under the direction of Edward Cashman.
The play opens in the elegantly furnished bedroom of Foxwell J. Sly, who is working a brilliant con game with the assistance of his servant, Simon Able.
Sly, pretending to be halfway through death's door as he cranks up a seizure or a wheeze, is raking in gold and jewels from greedy friends. Each one hopes to be named Sly's sole heir by currying his favor.
"There is no bottom to greed, "Sly tells Able, and the parade of flatterers proves the truth of that statement. One offers his wife's favors and another disinherits his son to be named in the will.
Eric Pierpoint is a slick Sly as the con man but his lechery needs a wider leer. He doubles in the role of the judge and carries this off with great western gusto. Anthony Risoli is a slippery and charming Able, who has learned well at his master's feet.
The avaricious sycophants are an outrageously funny trio. Joseph p. Normile is splendid as the frenetic, jealous accountant who pimps his wife. Michael B. Barbour makes a "living corpse" of old Crouch with every creaky move, and Anthony Elliott twitches his way as Lawyer Craven.
Constance Geis gives a brassy flair to the improper, well-endowed Miss Fancy. And Shari Valerio is the empty-headed fluff, Mrs. Truckle, whose brain does not match her body.
In a farcical scene played to the broadest, religious Mrs. Truckle, who thinks she is reviving a dying man, suddenly finds the lecherous Sly under her skirts. "We can't overdo the miracle," she admonishes.
"Sly Fox runs through Feb. 3 with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 2:30 matinees on Sunday.