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Holly Twyford in Ken Ludwig's A Fox on the Fairway
Photo by Scott Suchman

News

Laughter Rocks Signature’s MAX with A Fox on the Fairway

By Brad Hathaway
For the Mt. Vernon Gazette

There’s something magical about the sound of laughter in a theater, especially the explosive laughter that joins an audience together with the cast in the bond of mirth. That is the kind of magic now offered at Signature Theatre in Shirlington where Ken Ludwig’s latest concoction is being given a world premiere with a world class cast.

Ludwig is, of course, the man who crafted such comic delights as "Lend Me A Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo." He’s a local writer of national and international renown who has debuted many of his comedies in our area. "Shakespeare in Hollywood" debuted at Arena Stage, his completion of "The Beaux’ Stratagem" at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and "Twentieth Century" here at Signature. Now, add "A Fox on the Fairway" to the list. It is his excursion into the realm of the upper class world of the private country club with its manicured golf links, swanky clubhouse and an abundance of competitive spirit when it comes to inter-club tournaments where both bragging rights and healthy wagers are at stake.

John Rando, who helmed Broadway’s musical romp "Urinetown," walking away with a Tony Award in the process, makes his Signature Theatre debut directing this six-character farce. He’s gathered a cast with both local and New York credentials and lets them loose on the ever-escalating madness that Ludwig crafts as the manager of a country club wagers everything he’s worth (and more) on a tournament because he believes he has a new secret weapon in one of his club’s newest members. On tournament day, however, the situation is reversed and his secret weapon turns up on the other side.

Rando brings Jeff McCarthy from his Broadway cast of "Urinetown" to play the manipulating manager and teams him with multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford as the heavy drinking, frequently marrying chair person of the club’s board of directors who just happens to be the former spouse of the manager of the opposing club. They make quite a team.

McCarthy’s sense of comic timing is second only to Twyford’s and it is a delight to see them work through physical comedy with such brio. McCarthy not only lands the gags that could twist the tongue of a less enunciative actor, his physical comedy is rock solid. He has one move where, after a few too many drinks, he pulls a putter from a golf bag and attempts to catch it in mid-flight only to have it fall inert at his feet. The look on his face as he tries to comprehend that he actually missed catching the putter is classic.

Twyford, however, bests him in gestural comedy in that same drunk scene. When asked to lie down (never mind why) she reaches for the floor with both hands as if she couldn’t quite locate it without help. While both are superb at doing tipsy, they handle all the sober-sided dialogue comedy with equal skill.

Aubrey Deeker, whose range runs from classic tragedy to equally classic comedy, brings a high-energy precision to the role of a newly hired hand who just happens to be a whiz on the links. He’s teamed with a newcomer to local stages, Meg Steedle, who matches his energy and compliments it with one of the funniest squeals heard on stage in quite a while.

Another Helen Hayes Awardee, Andrew Long, returns to Signature as the conniving manager of the rival country club who shows up for each scene in another, even more outlandish golf sweater. Ludwig gives him some of the funniest lines of the show as his character mangles one cliché after another. ("It’s the early worm that gets the bird.")

The only member of the cast who doesn’t quite land all the humor to be found in her role is Valerie Leonard as McCarthy’s wife. To be fair, she isn’t given the funniest of business, but what she does have doesn’t quite go over.

James Kronzer’s gorgeous set of the country club interior rotates late in the play to reveal the golf course so that the final events of the tournament can be played out. Even before that, however, the earlier action on the links is made clear through Matt Rowe’s effective sound design and Colin K. Bill’s lighting.

There is clever use of the giant flat screen TV that one would expect in the lounge of an up-scale club house and then, as with other Ludwig comedies, the curtain call becomes a high velocity recap of the events of the evening, including a repeat of part of a carefully choreographed, wonderfully funny sequence in which all six characters throw and catch a valuable vase in a comic game of keep away. Apparently both the video and the choreography are the contribution of the same person. Buried deep in the program is a credit "Choreographer/Videographer Matthew Gardiner."

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