Perhaps my having never picked up a golf club in my life could be considered a handicap when it comes to fully enjoying Ken Ludwig’s new farcical comedy about golfers “The Fox on the Fairway.” To be sure, this didn’t deter anyone who didn’t listen to or love opera from laughing heartily at his most successful farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” revived last season on Broadway. After a break-in run earlier this season at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia, “The Fox on the Fairway” has found its way to the George Street Playhouse where it may prove to be another winner for Ludwig who currently has few peers when it comes to writing in this age-old and much cherished genre.
According to the playwright’s program notes “The Fox on the Fairway” is essentially dedicated to and constructed in the English farce style that began in the 1880s and flowered in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. As such, it shows its commemorative age with commendable bravado and a bold assurance that audiences will be receptive to the foolishness of its contrived and expressly inane plot and also tolerant of the unmitigated collection of fools who conspire within it. To be honest, “The Fox on the Fairway” is not in the same league as “Lend Me a Tenor,” but it often achieves what it aspires to do, make us laugh. And in a manner similar to Britisher Michael Frayn’s farce “Noises Off,” it relies as much on the absurdities built upon one basic crisis, as it does on the cast’s ability to stay seriously focused on one basic objective — to keep it moving.
Who am I to say that pulling out all the higher decibel stops, wringing out of a situation every conceivable twist and turn and then letting it hang out, golf balls and all, isn’t the best way to get from one hole to the next (to use the vernacular). I can vouch that the actors that have been assembled under the brisk direction of David Saint have all been country-clubbed to a tee. They look spiffy (or is it spoofy?) enough dressed in the kind of attire (as designed by David Murin) that defines the specific universe where the plot unfolds. One principal character Dickie, as played by Michael Mastro wears an assortment of wildly outre golf sweaters that surely validates the existence of another world.
These worlds are about to collide in the well-appointed and well stocked Tap Room of the Quail Valley Country Club (handsomely designed by Michael Anania) where preparations are underway for a major golf tournament between two rival country clubs for the Inter-Club Championship, or as Louise (Lisa McCormick), the adorably ditsy 23-year-old waitress at the club explains it, “Sort of like Troy versus Greece in the eighth century.”
Bingham (Peter Scolari), the smug executive director of the club, is eager to put up some big money on a bet he is making with Dickie, the smarmy executive director of the Crouching Squirrel Country Club. But Bingham’s self-assurance is suddenly challenged when he discovers that his star golfer has switched clubs at the last minute. In desperation, he recruits his new assistant 25-year-old Justin (Reggie Gowland) who demonstrates (surprise, surprise) his exceptional talent with a few well-placed strokes. This is not only a stroke of good luck for Bingham but also for Justin who now has the nerve to ask Louise to marry him, once they both manage to end up on the same side of a door.
Under normal circumstances things might be expected to go well for Justin and the club, except that Justin becomes unglued, unstable, unnerved, and apparently unable to tee-off when the dippy Louise admits that she has flushed her engagement ring down the toilet. What is left for the distraught Bingham to do but enlist the aid of the club’s trustee, Pamela (Amy Hohn), a worldy, wise-cracking multi-married boozer who knows how to come down with a case of hysterical blindness when the situation call for it.
When the actors are not disposed to stop in their tracks to deliver some funny asides (as in Shakespeare’s farces) they are kept on the go by director Saint with the obligation to keep it loud, fast, funny, and even ferocious. The latter comes into play with the appearance of Bingham’s battle-axe of a wife Muriel, as played in unapologetically high dudgeon by the wonderful Mary Testa, about whom the description “Lady Voldemort, She of Darkness” may be considered an understatement. I won’t spoil the play’s most hilarious bit of shtick by telling you more, but you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of her wrath.
You may be reminded of the young Jimmy Stewart as you see how the tall, gangly, and good-looking Gowland manages to incorporate a geniality into Justin’s irrepressible physicality. His love-making clinches with the beguilingly naive McCormick are quite funny. Mastro slinks in and out of the mayhem spewing out malapropisms with regularity such as “A bird on the wing is worth two in the air.”
Scolari has his most comical moment showing the willing Pamela how to pucker (don’t ask). In the Ludwig tradition, the cast replays in fast-forward the entire play in a chaotic, breathless, and funny finale. You don’t have to know anything about golf to get all the in-jokes, but you should know that Ludwig’s latest farce is sufficiently above par for the course.
“The Fox on the Fairway,” through Sunday, April 17, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. $33.50 to $66.50. 732-246-7717.