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 03/13/2005
Theater Review: "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

A Broadway musical version of the Michael Caine/Steve Martin film contains a Baedeker of big and small cons that will have any market person rolling in the aisles realizing he's been victimized by so many of them. The story begins with Lawrence, a big-con artist whose big store is a princely palace on the French Riviera. Lawrence pretends to be the prince of a small country leading a putative resistance movement for which he wheedles money from the American heiresses and widows who come for Mediterranean sun, royal and romance. His sidekick is the town police chief, a convincer. On a train, Lawrence meets Freddy, a small-con man who wants to learn from him. The two team up to con a sweet, innocent soap queen from Cincinnati, and, of course, as in all big cons, she's the big con who cons them.

The show is full of amusing small cons, great dialogue, one-liners, good dancing and much hilarity. A couple of songs are in a hip-hop style that does not detract overly from the rest of the show.  Lawrence has a great song about retiring. The audience loved it, and despite its considerably anti-Republican touches, Brantley the Abelsonian play critic at the New York Times, who hates all Broadway shows except "Forbidden Broadway" a revue that castigates Broadway, did indeed give it one of his standard worst-play-ever reviews.

The first thing that came to my mind when Freddy comes to Lawrence for instruction in big cons is how all the boys like to come to me for instruction
in trading, like at the Spec Party in 2002. In the play, as Lawrence agrees to take Freddy on he is confronted by a mark, an Oklahoma oil heiress, who thinks he has agreed to marry her and almost shoots his balls and feet off. He's in over his head at the very moment when Freddy is supposed to be learning. In real life, the Specs who traveled from all over the world to see me trade saw me take a maximal position when it was down the limit and have to extricate running for my life.

So many of the unholy relations we see on the Street are partnerships between two cons like Freddy and Lawrence, and all are designed to lead us to lose. I'm thinking of the many brokers who sell a hedge fundist without portfolio who's "guaranteed to win," the customers of the hedge fundist who have supposedly hit it big by investing with him, the academics who give seminars with the hedge fundists about the defects in the random walk.

I also liked the bicycle that serves as portable roulette table. Makes it as easy to place your bets and lose your money as the 24-hour trading with electronic order execution available on so many markets these days.