Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre couldn’t be better situated to stage Ken Ludwig’s country club farce, The Fox on the Fairway.
With the Riviera Country Club to its east and the Coral Gables Country Club to its west, not to mention the nearby Biltmore Golf Course, there has to be an audience primed for golf-related humor for the Miracle Mile theater’s penultimate show of its stellar 25th anniversary season. Ludwig, who wrote the show-biz romp, Lend Me a Tenor, could probably tap members’ memories for material for a sequel from those who have played Riviera’s annual Member-Guest tournaments over the years.
Snooty country clubs, with their stuffy managers and big business deals on the greens, certainly are ripe for humor. Remember 1980’s Chevy Chase-Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, Caddyshack?
Ludwig’s sporadically funny but involving homage to screwball British farces of the 1930s and 1940s isn’t as inspired as that movie and often plays more like a late-1970’s sitcom with some obvious locker room groaners in the script. Imagine an episode of racy Three’s Company in which Jack Tripper gets conned by Mr. Roper to masquerade as a golfer to win a bet, with ditzy roommate Chrissy Snow adding complications through a series of misunderstandings and pratfalls.
What works on a 30-minute farcical TV sitcom needs to be performed to near perfection, with crisp direction, to succeed as a two-act, two-hour live stage production. Fortunately, Actors’ Playhouse’s presentation features some standout talent on stage and off who give it their all — sometimes, too much of their all — so that Fox on the Fairway, for its few water traps, ultimately sends its audience home amused and entertained.
Fox on the Fairway centers around a golf tournament between rival country clubs, Quail Valley and Crouching Squirrel, as their gauche managers prepare for their annual grudge match.
Ken Clement, a Carbonell Award winner and Actors’ Playhouse regular in shows like Becky’s New Car, plays Bingham, the hapless Quail manager. He battles Squirrel’s manager, the blustery narcissist Dickie (Todd Allen Durkin, TV’s Nashville and Magic City), who is given to grand malapropisms — “The sock is on the other shoe” — and to wearing outrageously colorful sweaters and pants. Costume designer Ellis Tillman really should merit a special Carbonell mention just for finding the eye-popping and hilarious golfing duds Dickie sports. “Did you have to kill it, or did it crawl up your chest?” Dickie’s asked by man-hungry ex-wife Pamela (Amy McKenna.)
Dickie cajoles Bingham into a too-rich personal bet just before the tournament is about to tee off. The bumbling Bingham doesn’t know his star player has switched his membership to the other club so he’s stuck with goofy new hire Justin (Clay Cartland, Godspell), who just happens to be a terrific golfer but one with the tendency to fall completely apart whenever he hears bad news.
Naturally, on the 17th hole, Justin gets some bad news from his even flightier fiancée, Quail’s Tap Room waitress Louise (Betsy Graver, GableStage’s Motherf**ker With the Hat.) Thus sets forth the Three’s Company-styled misunderstandings, innuendos and physical comedy antics that threaten to wreck Justin’s game.
This production of Fox on the Fairway would benefit from a less hyper and overloud performance from Graver who plays her part at a tempo pitched to rival that of speed metal act Metallica. In one of director David Arisco’s few missteps, he might have been better off toning her role in shades of, say, Suzanne Somers’ less manic Chrissy who, too, was a blond airhead but who was equally endearing and empathetic.
Arisco, otherwise, gets the most out of Gene Seyffer’s attractively appropriate lounge set of woodwork, French doors and lobby furniture, upon which the cast races about. Alexander Herrin’s smart sound design makes the off-stage golf tournament come to life through clever panning of audio effects.
Arisco also gets fine performances from Clement who becomes so many club managers you’ve probably encountered, and snickered at, over the years. Cartland exhibits a likable bit of Steve Martin’s comic timing from The Jerk-era, and McKenna, who springs from Actors’ Playhouse’s drama, August: Osage County, one of the regional theater’s greatest and heaviest productions, proves she can handle slapstick comedy with aplomb. You’ll laugh as she attempts to fish out a wayward oyster from the confines of her bountiful décolletage or gets caught in a lip-lock with befuddled Justin just as Louise barges into the Tap Room. “It wasn’t me!” he innocently stammers. “She was using my lips.”
Stick around, or simply come for, a closing, instant-replay reenactment of the entire production in about two-minutes time for one of the most ingenious moments of comic theater we’ve seen yet.
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