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October 31, 2010

Ken Ludwig talks about 'A Fox on the Fairway' with The DC TheatreScene

By Joel Markowitz
The DC TheatreScene

If he had a theme song, it would be “Make ‘Em Laugh”, and Washington playwright Ken Ludwig has been doing just that for years. So far, he’s had over 15 plays produced, with more to come. Perhaps his most famous are Lend Me a Tenor, which recently closed its Broadway revival, the adaptation of the restoration comedy The Beaux Stratagem and the Gershwin musical tribute Crazy for You.

He has no trouble attracting great actors: Stanley Tucci and Hunter Foster in Lend Me a Tenor, Alice Ripley and Robert Prosky in Shakespeare in Hollywood, and Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter in Be My Baby.If he has a mantle, it’s getting crowded. He’s received an Olivier, two Tony Awards and two Helen Hayes Awards.

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His newest comedy, A Fox on a Fairway, is set, in case you didn’t know, on a golf course. Where did that idea come from? A friend suggested it one day on the links. “After all,” he tells us in the video interview below, “golf is innately funny … you wear silly clothes … you get all excited about getting a little ball in a tiny hole, [and] the stakes are amazingly high.”

A Fox on the Fairway
has audiences at Signature Theatre laughing a lot, and at the same time – on opening night – some of the major theatre critics were not impressed. I asked Ken Ludwig to talk about writing the show, working with Director John Rando and the wonderful Signature cast.

Joel: On your website, you say A Fox on the Fairway is about love and hope. Can you say more about that?

Ken: I think this play, like many of my plays, is about the notion that if you look at the world with a good heart and keep your sense of optimism you can make your life matter. These are not just platitudes. Everyone has to make a choice. You choose how you approach life. Things may not always work out the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that some of us don’t continue to face the world with a deep sense of optimism and fellow-feeling. My plays are an attempt to move the ball in the right direction – towards a sense of humanity and good fellow-feeling. If we don’t achieve that, we’re lost. How you live your life is up to you. But that’s the choice we all face.

Joel: Most of the critics seem to have missed that connection. Are they getting too jaded?

Ken: Yes.

Joel: What would you say to those who were critical of the play? It must have teed you off, or is it just ‘par for the course’ of being in this business?

Ken: I don’t read reviews.

Joel: Signature has assembled an outstanding cast - Meg Steedle, Aubrey Deeker, Jeff McCarthy, Andrew Long, Holly Twyford, and Valerie Leonard. Did you take part in the casting process?

Ken: Yes, I was part of the selection process of the cast, as I always am with my plays.

Joel: What do you like most about the performances of the Signature cast?

Ken: I like that they are skilled, intelligent, professional, hilarious and full of integrity. This is one of the best casts I’ve ever had in any of my plays.

Joel: Thanks to your writing, John Rando’s direction and the cast’s great comic timing, the show draws some big laughs. Do you think we laugh enough in the theatre?

Ken: I do think there should be more comedies in the theatre. I think we all have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously.

Joel: Which scenes from the Signature production are your favorites, and is there a scene that John Rando directed that made you say, “I never thought of that!”

Ken: John was constantly coming up with wonderful ideas. My favorite moment is at the very end, when Louise steps forward and sums the play up.

Joel: Are you planning changes to the script, and if so, what are they?

Ken: I made a number of changes in the play while we were in rehearsal and then in previews. That is the great joy of working on a new play with actors and an audience – trying to get it just right.

[In his review, John Glass from Drama Urge, who saw a recent performance writes, “Things have tightened up since opening night. About halfway into its five-week schedule, the show has apparently lowered its handicap, dropping 30 or so minutes from the runtime, to end at less than two hours”.]

Joel: Your work is often a tribute to comic writers from the past. You say you often re-read the classic comedies. Who are some of your influences?

Ken: George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde and Kaufman and Hart.

Joel: Why do you enjoy having your plays performed here?

Ken: I love working in Washington because this is my home. It’s a joy to work with all the great actors and directors who live here.

Joel: What are you working on now?

Ken: I’ve just finished a new play which sets A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Jersey Shore. It’s called, not surprisingly, Midsummer/Jersey.

Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing A Fox on the Fairway?

Ken: I hope they come away feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and happier than when they went in the door.

October 14, 2010

A Fox on the Fairway: Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Preview

Previews started Tuesday night for the world premiere of A Fox on the Fairway at Signature Theatre and the show is looking great. Here's a behind-the-scenes sneak preview: a few quick shots of the set as it was being loaded in over the weekend. The finished product is a wonder to behold, but you'll just have to come to the show to see it!

A Fox on the Fairway opens next Tuesday, October 19th and runs through November 14.

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Photos by Chris Mueller

October 6, 2010

Moon Over Buffalo in Moldova

We were very pleased and honored to learn that Moon Over Buffalo will be staged this fall in Romanian translation at the V. Alecsandri State Theatre in the city of Balti, Moldova, sponsored by the American Embassy in Moldova.

Director Neil Fleckman was kind enough to answer our questions about his production:

You directed Twentieth Century at the State Theatre of Moldova several years ago (pictured below). How did this experience influence your decision to direct another play by Ken Ludwig?

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In the fall of 2007 I staged Ken Ludwig's Twentieth Century for the National Theatre of Gagauzia, in the Gagauzia Autonomous Region of Moldova. Gagauzia is populated by ethnic Turks, since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Although there is a Gagauz dialect of Turkish, the production was in the Russian language. The project was supported by the American Embassy in Moldova, and the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The American Ambassador and other officials from the Embassy attended the premiere, at the invitation of the Governor of Gagauzia. A full house of local citizenry welcomed Twentieth Century with sustained appreciation, laughter, and applause. This prompted the Embassy to give Ken Ludwig the utmost priority, when seeking repertory for the current cultural project at the Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre in Balti, Moldova.

How do your actors respond to Ken's style of modern American comedy?

Virtually all the adult actors I cast in Moldova have professional training at state academies in both Moscow and Chisinau. The younger actors have spent four rigorous years at the Arts Academy in Chisinau. They are attuned to theatre in its multiple forms, and are plastic in their approach to creating characters and relationships onstage. Although none have played American comedies before, Ken Ludwig's work is so rich in human comedy, the actors are able to bridge the many miles between our countries. Especially as Ken sheds light on the virtues and foibles of theatre folk, performers in Moldova can identify parallels with their own experience, and individually connect to Ken's themes.

What do you find most exciting about directing Moon Over Buffalo for
Moldovan audiences?

When the American Government sponsors, and I direct, Moon Over Buffalo for the Moldovan public, we are creating a new audience for an American master playwright. This process of introduction, coupled with actors who are able to inhabit Ken's garments with such spontaneity, is highly rewarding to all of us who join in realizing a Ken Ludwig piece.