The Fox on the Fairway
At the Theatre at the Center
by Dan Zeff
Munster, Indiana – “The Fox on the Fairway” is best suited to audiences with a bottomless tolerance for silliness on the stage. All other patrons will have to be content with a couple of bright comic performances and an occasional witty line of dialogue.
The Theatre at the Center is presenting the Chicago area premiere of “Fox.” The playwright is Ken Ludwig, who wrote another farce, called “Lend Me a Tenor,” which opened in 1986 and has since made the man a great deal of money. The “Fox on the Fairway” director is William Pullinsi, the artistic director of Theatre at the Center and an old hand at staging farces.
“The Fox on the Fairway” is about golf, specifically about a tournament between two rival country clubs. The club directors make a wager on the outcome, leading to manic confusion. There are six characters, three men and three women. By the time the dust has settled, there have been two cases of spouse swapping and an engagement between a pair of young employees at Bingham’s country club.
But all of this happy romantic rearrangement comes after the characters endure a good deal of emotional and physical abuse. They all go through much dashing about through swinging doors, pratfall at a moment’s notice, and even belt each other around from time to time. There is also a bit of saucy sexual innuendo, but nothing to elevate the show beyond a PG-13 rating.
Like all farces, “Fox” is all plot and no character depth. As for social significance, don’t be ridiculous. The dialogue is in the service of propelling the narrative forward at breakneck and illogical speed. But give Ludwig credit. He does dash off a few droll lines, most of them from the mouth of Henry Bingham, the director of the Briar Ridge Country Club in Schererville, Indiana. As played by Lance Baker, Bingham suffers slow burns, indignities, and panic attacks, but when the playwright gives him a juicy line, Baker runs with it handsomely.
Bingham’s adversary is Dickie Bell (Norm Boucher), the director of the rival country club. While Baker is willowy and astringent, Boucher is portly and blustery. Their contrasting physiques and personalities spark most of the legitimate humor in the play. Linda Gillum, one of the area’s most resourceful actresses, plays Bell’s wife as a one-note early middle-aged sexpot. Gillum does what she can with the single dimension role, recognizing that she’s not dealing with a Noel Coward exercise in comic urbanity.
The remaining characters are Bingham’s harridan wife (Laura Freeman), and the two young lovers (Michael Mahler and Kate Bergeron) who are menial employees of Bingham’s club. The youngsters run through an abundance of low comedy exercises that fair set my teeth on edge but elicited a storm of giggles from the opening night crowd, who seemed to be lapping up the entire show.
Photo credit: Peter Coombs
“The Fox on the Fairway” is obviously intended to be a lark. It runs under two hours, including an intermission that divides the four scenes. The third scene contains virtually no dramatic substance, but the last scene wraps up the whole shebang in a rising tide of inanity. Just to flesh out the playing time, the entire cast runs through a reprise of the entire storyline that is by far the cleverest bit in the play.
The action takes place on a fine set designed by Ann Davis that realistically replicates the club tap room and patio and even a bit of the golf course, leaving sufficient room for the characters to tumble about in the welter of misunderstandings and desperation that motors the narrative. Brenda Winstead deigned the costumes, including some delightfully outlandish sweaters for the young man and Dickie. Denise Karczewski designed the lighting and Barry G. Funderburg designed the sound, including, I presume, the fine selection of recorded music played between scenes.
Farce is the most difficult type of play to stage. I have seen only two masterpieces of the genre in my play going lifetime, “Charley’s Aunt” and “Noises Off.” “The Fox on the Fairway” isn’t in their class but people in the theater seemed to connect with its nonsense and physical shtick.
Finally, I have no idea why “Fox” is in the play’s title. But in the final analysis, who cares? The play does not invite rigorous analysis.
“The Fox on the Fairway” runs through March 24 at the Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 or 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $38 to $42. Call 219 836 3255 or 800 511 1552 or visit TheatreAtTheCenter.com.
The show gets a rating of 2½ stars. February 2013
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