Michael Mastro, Mary Testa, Amy Hohn and Peter Scolari

Credit: T. Charles Erickson



NJ Arts Maven

In less skilled hands, a farce could land with a thud, like a lead balloon. But having honed his comedic chops on Lend Me a Tenor, Ken Ludwig is at it again with an uproarious look at the game of golf and country club tournaments in The Fox on the Fairway, now at George Street Playhouse through April 17.

This madcap romp around the tap room of Quail Valley Golf Club, directed snappily and snazzily by David Saint, revolves around the Annual Inter-club Golf Tournament between Quail Valley and their archrivals, Crouching Squirrel, in which the latter has triumphed for the past five years. With his job on the line, Q.V. Director Henry Bingham has enrolled a scratch golfer named Tramplemaine, only to have the guy quit the day before the match and join Crouching Squirrel, for whom he will play in the tournament. To add to Bingham's worries is a bet he has placed for $200,000 (plus his wife's antique shop) with C.S. Director Dickie Bell, the master of the malaprop and wearer of the ugliest golf sweaters on the planet.

Upon learning that his newly hired assistant Justin Hicks is a golfer in the same category as Tramplemaine, Bingham immediately signs him up and sends him out to play, with much success: at the end of 16 holes, Hicks is down eight strokes while Tramplemaine is down only one!

Matters are complicated, however, by Justin's new fiancé Louise's losing her engagement ring and the untimely arrival of Muriel Bingham, who discovers her husband embracing the comely Q.V. VP Pamela (center below), who just happens to be Dickie Bell's former wife, among other incredible connections (no spoilers here)! Needless to say, the ending, while satisfying, stretches our credulity and ties everything up neatly, just as a farcical ending should.

Ludwig has peopled his play with six off-the-wall characters, stock characters of farce, only this time in golf attire (Louise calls golf "a game played by people wearing mismatched clothing"). There are two ingénues (male and female), a clownish dolt, a Nervous Nellie main character, a beautiful older woman and a battle-ax matron. The entire cast appears to be loose-jointed as they gallop around the nifty set designed by Michael Anania (complete with golf-themed accessories that add to the merriment), flop around on the floor, dance across the furniture and toss around a precious vase with great comedic timing. They've got this farce thing down pat.

Director Saint calls his cast "farceurs," and that they are! Peter Scolari is marvelous as Henry Bingham, quaking like a bowl of jelly at the thought of losing the tournament (and his job) and whenever his wife Muriel appears. Despite his antics, Scolari makes Bingham a sympathetic character so we root for him (and his club) to win. Scolari performs several athletic moves that wow the audience. At one point you'd swear that his wife picks him up and throws him on the sofa, but it's an example of great (and agile) acting!

His nemesis, Dickie Bell, played by Michael Mastro utters a plethora of malapropisms (in this case aphorisms whose words he uproariously inverts to our great delight) with a straight face; he also wears ugly costumes as though they are royal rags! Amy Hohn is equally as funny as Q.V. Vice President Pamela, who tries mightily to keep things under control—without much success. She runs around the stage in five-inch heels with energy—and great balance! And Mary Testa is beyond formidable when she appears as Muriel, dressed in a military-inspired jacket and exuding the air of a five-star general. Her flirtation with Dickie plays against her outward appearance and is an absolute riot! And finally, as the two sweet young (albeit ditzy) things. Reggie Gowland (Justin) and Lisa McCormick (Louise) are appropriately goofy and dim. Gowland is hilarious as he prepares to demonstrate his putting ability to Bingham and Pamela: he lies down on the floor to sight the ball, then gets up and shakes out his hands like Jackie Gleason. The guy appears to have rubber bones! McCormick's dances of excitement will have you splitting your sides, as will her attempt to clean up spilled goldfish snacks and nuts using only one hand (and a foot).

A great deal of the fun comes from the colorful costumes designed by David Murin. In addition to the sweaters worn by Dickie and Muriel's frocks, he dresses McCormick in all-pink golf attire and suits up Gowland for the match in a lime green golf shirt, red plaid knickers, red/white argyle knee-high socks and matching sneakers, not to mention a tam perched on his curly hair! But the pièce de resistance is McCormick in a red dress so tight it appears to be painted in her body! Wow!

I really don't understand the mystique of the game of golf. My husband called playing it a "death wish," and Mark Twain called golf "a good walk spoiled." No matter whether you love golf or not, The Fox on the Fairway will tickle your funny bones and keep you laughing after you leave the George Street Playhouse as you recall some of the off-the-wall events, props and dialogue. It may not be a deep, serious drama, but Ludwig's play does poke great fun at Americans' obsession with winning and a game where you use a stick to hit a little ball around a big lawn. And it does this all in good fun.

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