Peter Scolari, as Bingham in George Street Playhouse's production of 'Ken Ludwig's The Fox on the Fairway'

PHOTO: George Street/T. Charles Erickson


'The Fox on the Fairway' is Phenomenally Funny

Peter Filichia/For The Star-Ledger

What, no mistaken identity?

That’s the only element of farce that Ken Ludwig has omitted in his extraordinarily funny “The Fox on the Fairway.” Fans of slamming doors and double-entendres had best run to the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick as fast as, well, a fox on the fairway.

Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo” had one run on Broadway and his “Lend Me a Tenor” enjoyed two. This one deserves a chance in New York because it’s the best of the three.

For here, Ludwig is offering a true homage to farces. He has included lovers’ quarrels, information overheard by people who weren’t supposed to know it, the battle-ax who’s a sucker for compliments and the all-too-convenient and coincidental surprise ending. The only reason he didn’t include mistaken identity is because his six characters know each other too well.

Louise and Justin have been dating, and soon will be engaged. Bingham and Muriel wish they never had gotten engaged, let alone married, lo those many years ago. Ditto Dickie and Pamela, who were wise enough to call it quits after six torturous months of marriage.

They’re all at the Quail Valley Country Club. Bingham and Muriel own it, Pamela’s a member, and Justin and Louise are employees. Dickie, who owns a rival country club, makes a $200,000 bet with his rival that his outstanding golfer can beat Bingham’s. Dickie, however, has been underhanded to shift matters to his favor. There’s one in every farce.

And then the deluge of farce’s most famous verbal conventions: the non sequiturs, malapropisms and gay jokes. There’s the handshake that’s too hard, but not nearly as hard as the drinking that will occur. Add in the de rigueur lost ring as well as an expensive item that’s in danger of being destroyed. One character pretends to be afflicted with a horrible handicap — one that has nothing to do with golf.

Director David Saint keeps it spinning better than any top or gyroscope. His cast of six is top-notch. As Bingham, Peter Scolari has the consummate farceur’s skill of shaking with nervousness and walking as an orangutan does. Mary Testa is one of the best in the business in giving a pointed glare of hatred, which is almost as funny as the way she sashays around a loudspeaker.

Reggie Gowland and Lisa McCormick display that lovely naiveté that young lovers always have in farce. The way Gowland moves suggests that all his cartilage was removed and replaced by rubber bands. McCormick resembles Sandy Duncan if she were poked by an electronic cattle prod.

As Pamela, Amy Hohn shows the contempt that many divorced wives show their ex-husbands. With good cause: Michael Mastro superbly does the necessarily job of making us hate the smug Dickie and want him taken down 12 to 15 pegs.

Even Michael Anania’s set contains a delicious surprise. Meanwhile, some of David Murin’s costumes get many of the night’s biggest laughs.

There’s one moment that shows how much Ludwig has accomplished. Long before we meet Muriel, she calls Bingham on the phone. We hear what a harridan she is by her loud, squawking voice blaring out of the receiver. Bingham hangs up, but her voice keeps going for a few seconds more.

In any other play, we’d assume that this was a mistake from a faulty offstage worker who didn’t end the prerecorded harangue on time. Here the audience gurgled with pleasure for it knew what Ludwig was saying: Muriel was such a force that even a hung-up telephone couldn’t contain her wrath. When audience members laugh at that, they and the playwright are on the same wavelength. It’s a great place to be.

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