Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s farce, The Fox on the Fairway, offers an enjoyable evening of laughter. The talented cast works well together in delivering this madcap romp about love, life, and the crazy game of golf, a game that Mark Twain described as “a good walk spoiled.” With a number of wacky characters, crazy plot twists, and slapstick humor, this is not a deep intellectual evening of theater but rather a sit back and laugh out-loud show that combines frenetic physical comedy, confused clichés, and hysterical histrionics. The play by Tony Award-nominated playwright, and Washington resident, Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, and Crazy for You) was first produced in 2010 at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.
The story is set in the Tap Room of the Quail Valley Country Club, an exclusive private golf club. The inter-club championship is about to begin between Quail Valley and its hated rival, the Crouching Squirrel Golf and Tennis Club. At stake? Pride, money, and so much more. Quail’s self-important director, Mr. Bingham (Dell Pendergrast), is sure that his Club will break their five-year losing streak. He’s got a ringer that can’t lose. He is so confident, he makes a massive bet with the Squirrel’s supercilious director Dickie Bell (Bob Rosenburg), involving a great sum of cash as well as Bingham’s wife’s antique shop, without her approval, natch.
When the tables are turned and Bingham’s plan falls apart, he conspires with one of the Club’s trustees, Pamela Peabody (Jessie Roberts), a boozy, oft-married woman, who has a history with both club directors and isn’t afraid of a double entendre. It soon becomes clear that Bingham’s earnest but somewhat dim assistant Justin Hicks (Will Olivieri) may be able to restore the Club’s honor and win the championship. Unfortunately, Justin only plays well when he is relaxed and his new fiancée Louise Heinbedder (Stephanie Pencek), a flighty waitress at the club, has lost her engagement ring and dissolves into panic-stricken bawling at a moment’s notice. Things become even more ominous when Bingham’s wife Muriel (Barbara Carpenter) arrives on the scene with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.
While the show is a bit slow in getting off the ground, it really finds its center midway through act one. Each actor maintains the energy necessary to keep up the exhausting pace that makes the show work. And just as you think they can rest and take a bow, the cast recreates the entire story at super-fast speed in a breathless and funny finale.
Mr. Pendergrast, a retired foreign service officer, is a delight. He is able to make his character, the Quail’s director, a sympathetic man despite some stupid decisions. The actor has a restraint that keeps his role from going over the top. Despite a less-than-believable story line, we rooted for him to win the bet. I especially enjoyed his scenes with Ms. Roberts. Her expressive face and comic timing are perfect for the saucy role. When the she is caught kissing the young assistant on the lips, her “hysterical blindness” is, in fact, hysterical.
The young couple, played by Ms. Pencek and Mr. Olivieri, exhibit an earnestness and sincerity that is appealing. While Olivieri has acted in the company’s productions for children, this is his debut on the big stage and he does a fine job in portraying the goofy golfer. Mr. Rosenberg, as the duplicitous rival club director and show scoundrel, delivers just the right amount of smarmy arrogance as he tortures one cliché after another (“A bird on the wing is worth two in the air”). While there are a number of jokes about Dickie’s hideous sweaters, I must say I have seen much worse at my local golf club.
Ms. Carpenter as the battle-axe wife practically steals the show. She has a tough role in that so many of her lines are almost deafeningly loud but she manages to instill some humanity into the part while still getting the laughs.
Director Colleen Stock keeps the fast-paced show on track, with actors moving feverishly on and off stage, slamming doors, juggling a precious vase, and swinging golf clubs. There are a number of sound effects and the sound team – Sound Designer Caitlyn Simmons and Sound Board Operator Alessandro Gaiarin – get it just right. The simple but effect set design by Trevor Johnston gives the actors the room to move while creating a sense of place and time.
You don’t need to know anything about golf to enjoy this show. Just come prepared to laugh.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Fox on the Fairway plays through February 23, 2013 at Taking Flight Theatre Company at Waddell Theatre on NOVA’s Loudoun Campus – 1000 Harry Byrd Highway, in Sterling, VA. Tickets may be purchased online, or at the door (cash or check only).