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Ken Ludwig's The Fox on the Fairway at Toledo Rep

The final frontier
BY ALLAN SANDERS
Published in The Toledo City Paper

Very few writers alive today have been elevated to the ranks of “sure thing” by their abilities to keep an audience entertained, but Ken Ludwig — whose The Fox On The Fairway will be performed at the Toledo Rep January 18-26 — is the exception that forces the others to keep trying.

Theater is a writer’s medium. More than movies, which are arguably more about the director and the editor than the script (which can eventually fall through several sets of keyboards before filming even begins; the exceptions being those directors wise enough — yes, I'm talking to you Mr. Spielberg —to bring in the best writing the stage has to offer when they hire Broadway brilliance, like Tony “Lincoln” Kushner); and television, which has taken on an almost surreal dimension of “how can we outdo everyone else? How about dwarfs, zombies and meth-dealing high school chemistry teachers!” Well heck folks, how about all three in one show?

Theater remains the sole venue where a writer can prove his or her worth as an artist, social commentator, humorist, dramatist, linguist, philosopher, realist, absurdist, impressionist, docu-dramatist and all the many other words that come to mean . . .”writer”. In these days of “studio” art (what I prefer to call “ghost factories”), where writers as famous and popular as James Patterson don't write three quarters of the books that bear their names, the theatre is the one place where a writer, a single writer, can be lifted to the skies or hurled back to the earth in mere moments. This after what could have been years of toil to find just the right words to make dreams of success a reality.

Very few writers alive today have been elevated to the ranks of “sure thing” by their abilities to keep an audience entertained, but Ken Ludwig — whose The Fox On The Fairway will be performed at the Toledo Rep January 18-26 — is the exception that forces the others to keep trying.

In his first at-bat in 1989, Mr. Ludwig hit a grand slam with his play Lend Me A Tenor. And for the past 24 years, he has written some of the most broadly entertaining and interesting plays since Neil Simon was at his peak. There’s the book for the musical hit Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo, Leading Ladies (a monster hit for Toledo Rep a few years ago. And now you can’t swing a cat in any metropolitan area without hitting a theater that's performing LL); also, adaptations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Three Musketeers, and Treasure Island. Not to mention 4 plays he produced in 2012 – two for childrens theater; the big people hit The Game’s Afoot, and the reading of his Sherlock Holmes adaptation, Baskerville.

But in 2010 Ludwig also had another hit along the lines of a homage to the great English farces of the 1930s and 1940s. Probably as close to the Marx Brothers style of comedy as anything else out there. The Fox On The Fairway is Ken Ludwig doing what Ken Ludwig does best — taking the carnival mirror to the country club elite and turning it upside down. Mr. Ludwig is the one playwright out there having fun poking the sacred cows of wealth, propriety and nine irons. . . and getting it right. Mistaken identities, slamming doors, over the top romance . . . yup, sounds a lot like both Leading Ladies and Lend Me A Tenor but set in the stuffy trappings of a private country club.

His characters are quirky and, in their quirkiness, usually hilarious; Ludwig’s situations, which have often been misconstrued as “mechanical”, evoke explosive laughter. Not just here in Toledo, but regional, college and high school theatres across the country can attest, Ken Ludwig is a comedy favorite. And if Director Carol Ann Erford brings to The Fox on The Fairway, what she brought to directing Leading Ladies, then it’s easy to imagine that Fox will be another bonanza for The Rep on these cold winter nights in January. A playwright of high caliber, such as Ken Ludwig, can still find a way to warm us up with a good old fashioned 1930's comedy set in 2013.

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