Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Show's Title at Karamu Is Biggest Laugh

Cleveland Press May 27, 1966

When Karamu stages something with the outlandish title of "The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch" you just know that absolutely nobody but veteran actor Nolan Bell could be considered for the part of Fitch.

Bell roars and snivels, chuckles and cries and carries on wonderfully as "the most lily-livered, yellow-bellied, good-for-nothing, low-down, rotten clean-through, miserable polecat that ever walked the face of the West."

"The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch" is described as a spoof of Westerns but it is too self-conscious to be a spoof, too broad and heavy-handed to be a satire and too light weight and inconsequential to be a reasonable piece of drama. It is by James L. Rosenberg, a professor at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

THERE WAS a good deal of laughter at last night's performance but the humor came less from the script than from the antic playing of the Karamu cast.

Scene of the play is Gopher Gulch, a typical mythical Western town complete with the proper mythical Western characters -- a not too bright sheriff, a tippling doctor, a dance hall girl, and Sneaky Fitch who is the town bum but who doesn't fit the pattern because he is real, he smells and he's an admitted coward.

All of this is explained by a narrator (Harold Taylor) and it is played out against the singing and guitar playing of Alan Fodor.

Early in the play Sneaky apparently dies and comes back to life and the townsfolk -- including the fastest gun in the West -- are terrified at him

MIXED IN with all the farcical doings are attempts at messages -- things aren't what they seem, know thyself and codes of honor are empty things. The whole structure of the play is too tenuous for so much.

Some of the best spoofing of all is in the set designed by Diane Kahn. It is a stage-wide cliche, a typical-mythical Western street with jail, bank, saloon and hitching rail.

From upstairs windows peer Whistler's Mother and the farming couple out of G rant Woods' "American Gothic."

THE MEMBERS of the cast do all they can -- which is considerable -- in clowning, working out sight gags and generally keeping the proceedings light and airy.

As for the play itself, the best part of it is its title. The rest of it has a hard time living up to that.