Signature Theatre A Fox on the FairwayBy Joe Adcock • Oct 26th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through November 14
2:15 with one intermission
Reviewed October 24th, 2010
On the way out of the theater, a woman behind me said, “My stomach muscles hurt from laughing so hard.”
A Fox on the Fairway, a new play by Ken Ludwig that is premiering at Signature Theatre, is that kind of show. It’s a workout for the abs, a real belly laugh marathon.
For Ludwig, writing this amazingly ingenious satirical farce must have been a workout for the brain lobes, a real research and development marathon. Set in the musty Quail Valley country club, the action takes place during Quail Valley’s momentous Annual Golf Competition against neighboring Crouching Squirrel Country Club.
The contest gives rise to financial shenanigans and player chicanery. But these bizarre background complications are nothing compared to the triple-threat romantic turmoil in the foreground. There’s the young couple. Then there’s the klutzy/sexy middle-aged couple. And then there’s the other middle-aged couple. They are klutzy/klutzy.
Ludwig is the master of cleverly calibrated comic chaos. He has made a study of the intricacies of the nutso comedies of the 1930s and 40s. Works by Ben Travers, George S. Kaufman, Sam and Bella Spewack and Clare Boothe Luce come to mind. Ludwig’s best known works — Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You — are set in the 30s.
Fox on the Fairway, however, is putatively contemporary. In the second act, a vast TV screen has a small yet brilliant role.
Still, Ludwig’s modern day Fairway characters and situations are worthy offspring of iconic 1930s zaniness. Plus Ludwig includes savvy genetic splicings from Feydeau’s French boulevard farces of the 1890s and late 20th Century satirical comedies by Britain’s Alan Ayckbourn.
It was Feydeau who made sure that his sets had lots and lots of doors in them. Doors allow for maximum madcap chases and frantic hide-and-seek moments. Signature scenic designer James Kronzer provides the chintzy Quail Valley tap room with doors aplenty, six if I counted correctly. Director John Rando’s slam bang stage action gives the doors a vigorous workout.
It’s hard to say much about Ludwig’s actual plot. It is a sort of treasure hunt that is full of crafty surprises. I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone. Suffice it to say the love triumphs, grannie’s lost ring is found and the recognition scene (worthy of Sophocles or Shakespeare) testifies once again to the oft-proven utility of birthmarks.
Meg Steedle and Aubrey Deeker as the young lovers are satisfyingly hormonal — now sentimental, now horny, now furiously angry. Jeff McCarthy and Holly Twyford as the klutzy-in-a-sexy way couple are nicely paired — him blustery but vulnerable, her innocently lascivious. Andrew Long and Valerie Leonard as the klutzy-in-a-klutzy way couple are originals — him eager to gloat at any cost, her an aggressive businesswoman who shame-facedly admits to to having a “feminine side.”
Costume designer Kathleen Geldard makes strong comic statements with her outfits for both Long and Leonard. Him with a series of outrageous golf-motif sweaters, her with snug suit dresses made from shiny lion- and tiger-skin prints.
Ludwig’s fertile wit is not confined to devising farcical situations and characters. He’s also good with funny dialogue. Andrew Long’s character bears the pure DNA of such comic immortals as Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop and Shakespeare’s Dogberry — characters who have left permanent scars on the English language. One of Leonard’s many memorable sallies is “A flying bird is worth two in the air.” Or how about this: “Now the sock is on the other shoe!” Or: “To the spoils goes the victor.”
The Signature premiere of A Fox on the Fairway amounts to what used to be called an “out of town tryout.” Producers would test new shows on audiences in such places as Boston or Philadelphia before finally opening them on Broadway. Ludwig’s plays have been very successful in New York and London. They have been translated into dozens of languages and produced all over the world. That kind of success requires lots of tinkering, tightening and polishing.
I expect that before Ludwig’s latest is deemed “ready for New York or London” it will be trimmed by about 15 minutes. Some scenes clearly need tweaking. A supposedly comic effects-of-alcohol scene, for example, clearly goes on too long. Other moments drag, but less blatantly.
In general, however, A Fox on the Fairway has what theater-goers crave in hard times, be they the 1930s or the 2000s — romance, swanky-but-ludicrous characters and lots of laughs. Nothing is more welcome in an unsettled era than sore stomach muscles.
Photos by Scott Suchman for the Signature Theatre.
- Louise: Meg Steedle
- Justin: Aubrey Deeker
- Bingham: Jeff McCarthy
- Dickie: Andrew Long
- Pamela: Holly Twyford
- Muriel: Valerie Leonard
- Louise: Katie Grace Heidbreder
- Justin: Joshua Sticklin
- Pamela, Muriel: Julie Garner
- Director: John Bando
- Scenic Design: James Kronzer
- Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
- Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
- Sound Design: Matt Rowe
- Casting: SH Entertainment
- Production Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5745.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.