PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: A Fun Run for Fools' Gold at Sly Fox

By Harry Haun
02 Apr 2004

He's also working on a screenplay with, and for, Robert Redford — a sequel to Jeremy Larner's 1972 script, "The Candidate," "that character 30 years later. The original ended in freeze frame after he won the election, him saying, 'What do we do now?' This shows what he did. And I have a couple of things I hope to finish, which will be for the stage."

Elizabeth Berkley, in a backless, strapless red satin creation, took to the Tavern glitter-and-be-gay ambiance beautifully. This marked her Broadway debut, prompting this heartfelt remark: "It's amazing how, in life, once in a while, certain childhood dreams do come true — and this is one of them. The reality of it is fantastic. It's just gorgeous."

There is an inordinate amount of physical comedy on stage, and it was duly noted by Nick Wyman, who is spared all that, playing the one upright, ramrod straight, honest person in the show. He pays the price for that position, too. "I am a force of order in this atmosphere of disorder, and I'm thoroughly routed by the end of the play," he noted. "This cast is the Murderers' Row of Comedy, each one funnier than the last one."

Rene Auberjonois, who plays Wyman's arcane father, tools around the stage almost motorized as if he were riding a toy tricycle under his oversized black coat — a hysterically funny image. "I'm a mountain hiker, and my thighs are the strongest part of my body," he explained. "I slumped. The character's name, after all, is Crouch. And that's what I do."

Madeleine Gilford, widow of Jack who originated Auberjonois' role, paid her respects to him. "I remember Jack vividly," he confessed. "In fact, the only reason that I felt I could presume to follow in the footsteps of Jack is because I'm so totally different."

The shyster lawyer on the scene is played with tics and flamboyance to spare by brave Bronson Pinchot. "It says in the script he has a twitch, but I didn't come up with one 'til recently," he said. "His twitch is my twitch, except theatricalized. I have a bad spine — it's all knotted up — so I thought, What if I just do what I do when I can't get my neck right? Bingo!"

And he credits director Penn for leading him in the right direction. "Arthur's big thing with comic actors is to keep pretending that there's no such thing as comic business and treat it as if you have to find the emotional core, which is what he did with me. That's why the character has this huge drive to get what he wants. That's his big thing. Arthur gave me that drive, and I came up with exterior of it. I realized what it ended up being based on — I didn't realize what it was consciously — is the yellow journalism of the 19th century when they'd have an engraving of a courtroom orator. That's the period of the play, so it started being a newspaper engraving in the 1880s of a great courtroom drama."

Another over-the-top highpoint is provided by Peter Scolari, playing the chief of police who short-circuits imagining the crime of passion that has been committed and breaks into self-flagellation. "Bob Dishy and Rene Auberjonois helped me create that," Scolari admitted. "Both of them, in a performance in Boston, saw I was trying to get something done there so they both wheeled upstage, completely showing the audience the back of their heads — and that, in turn, put the fire under me." His performance, he said, is partly a result of their generosity.

—Harry Haun is staff writer for Playbill magazine, and has been attending Broadway opening nights since 1975.