“Caddyshack” is a great, big, loveable dumb movie, but fans would be hard-pressed to call it one of the more astute studies ever assembled on the art of golf. After witnessing the angry and belligerent mess made by A Fox on the Fairway, however, that movie seems positively penetrating. Ken Ludwig’s new comedy – ostensibly called a farce – is sharp in its own way, but more in the manner of a whittled stick that a five-year-old relative uses to incessantly poke you until you react. One can only assume the expected response is laughter, but more likely you’ll start bruising first.
Ludwig seems to be shooting for broad slapstick hi-jinks, in the manner of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off!, and a number of the necessary ingredients are there. Behold: a ticking time-bomb scenario (in this case, the last-minute training of a young golfer named Justin (Aubrey Deeker) who’s stepping in to fight for victory in a tournament among rival country clubs Quail Valley and Crouching Squirrel (are you laughing yet?). He takes up his clubs under the brusque tutelage of Mr. Bingham (Jeff McCarthy), a roaring mini-tycoon who, of course, is due for a few slaps in the face. Note, too: Pamela (Holly Twyford) the dry-humored, deeply alcoholic roaming cougar; Richard (Andrew Long), the petulant sleazeball rival in the bad sweaters, Muriel (Valerie Leonard), Bingham’s jilted ice queen of a wife, and Louise (Meg Steedle), the cutiepie co-ed who, gosh-darn it, can’t throw so well or speak English that good.
All the character types showed up for the game, egos and malapropisms flailing, the breakable objects are poised for self-destruction, and director John Rando has ramped everyone up to apoplectic levels of grief and hysteria. So, where’s the funny? No one ever touches it, expect in that rare moment when the cast (and they are, yes, talented comic actors) gets to relax and improvise a little. But as odd as it may sound, madcap comedy takes immaculate grace. It’s like, oh I don’t know, a good golf swing – the ball goes a whole lot farther if you don’t just whack away at it.
The whole package looks nice (James Kronzer’s set and Colin K’ Bills’s lighting are certainly up to snuff, and lord knows where Kathleen Geldard came up with such wonderfully horrible sweaters for Long to swagger around in, like a blind peacock) and the actors do what they can, as one should expect from a strong ensemble. But boy, are they swimming upstream. Long early rounds of lunkheaded exposition don’t let up until about 40 minutes in, at which point Louise loses her engagement ring and we are finally afforded an actual comic crisis. But from there on out, it’s all far too easy – every surprise entrance (sssh, don’t tell my wife!) is like clockwork, the slapstick is hammy, and we see every twist coming a mile away.
Some scenes devolve with no rationale – why, toward the end, do a half-dressed Justin and Louise suddenly burst, unprompted, into the room? – and by the end it’s awfully hard to not start counting all the disconnects and missed changes. At one point Richard, in silk rainbow paisley pants, has the audacity to yell, “Must you insult my intelligence?” You’re asking for it, pal. This long, weary round on the green is way over par.
A Fox on the Fairway
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by John Rando
Produced by Signature Theatre
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
A FOX ON THE FAIRWAY
- Jordon Wright . Alexandria Times
- Margaret Lawrence . StarExponent
- Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade
- John Glass . DramaUrge
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
- Susan Davidson . CurtainUp
- Brad Hathaway . Arlington Connection
Julie LaPorte . Washington Life
- Tom Avila . MetroWeekly
Chris Klimek . Washington City Paper
Barbara MacKay . Washington Examiner
Susan Berlin . Talkin’ Broadway
- Paul Harris . Variety
David Hoffman . Fairfax Times
Joe Adcock . ShowBizRadio
Peter Marks . Washington Post