If he had a theme song, it would be “Make ‘Em Laugh”, and Washington playwright Ken Ludwig has been doing just that for years. So far, he’s had over 15 plays produced, with more to come. Perhaps his most famous are Lend Me a Tenor, which recently closed its Broadway revival, the adaptation of the restoration comedy The Beaux Stratagem and the Gershwin musical tribute Crazy for You.
He has no trouble attracting great actors: Stanley Tucci and Hunter Foster in Lend Me a Tenor, Alice Ripley and Robert Prosky in Shakespeare in Hollywood, and Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter in Be My Baby.If he has a mantle, it’s getting crowded. He’s received an Olivier, two Tony Awards and two Helen Hayes Awards.
His newest comedy, A Fox on a Fairway, is set, in case you didn’t know, on a golf course. Where did that idea come from? A friend suggested it one day on the links. “After all,” he tells us in the video interview below, “golf is innately funny … you wear silly clothes … you get all excited about getting a little ball in a tiny hole, [and] the stakes are amazingly high.”
A Fox on the Fairway has audiences at Signature Theatre laughing a lot, and at the same time – on opening night – some of the major theatre critics were not impressed. I asked Ken Ludwig to talk about writing the show, working with Director John Rando and the wonderful Signature cast.
Joel: On your website, you say A Fox on the Fairway is about love and hope. Can you say more about that?
Ken: I think this play, like many of my plays, is about the notion that if you look at the world with a good heart and keep your sense of optimism you can make your life matter. These are not just platitudes. Everyone has to make a choice. You choose how you approach life. Things may not always work out the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that some of us don’t continue to face the world with a deep sense of optimism and fellow-feeling. My plays are an attempt to move the ball in the right direction – towards a sense of humanity and good fellow-feeling. If we don’t achieve that, we’re lost. How you live your life is up to you. But that’s the choice we all face.
Joel: Most of the critics seem to have missed that connection. Are they getting too jaded?
Joel: What would you say to those who were critical of the play? It must have teed you off, or is it just ‘par for the course’ of being in this business?
Ken: I don’t read reviews.
Joel: Signature has assembled an outstanding cast – Meg Steedle, Aubrey Deeker, Jeff McCarthy, Andrew Long, Holly Twyford, and Valerie Leonard. Did you take part in the casting process?
Ken: Yes, I was part of the selection process of the cast, as I always am with my plays.
Joel: What do you like most about the performances of the Signature cast?
Ken: I like that they are skilled, intelligent, professional, hilarious and full of integrity. This is one of the best casts I’ve ever had in any of my plays.
Joel: Thanks to your writing, John Rando’s direction and the cast’s great comic timing, the show draws some big laughs. Do you think we laugh enough in the theatre?
Ken: I do think there should be more comedies in the theatre. I think we all have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously.
Joel: Which scenes from the Signature production are your favorites, and is there a scene that John Rando directed that made you say, “I never thought of that!”
Ken: John was constantly coming up with wonderful ideas. My favorite moment is at the very end, when Louise steps forward and sums the play up.
Joel: Are you planning changes to the script, and if so, what are they?
Ken: I made a number of changes in the play while we were in rehearsal and then in previews. That is the great joy of working on a new play with actors and an audience – trying to get it just right.
[In his review, John Glass from Drama Urge, who saw a recent performance writes, “Things have tightened up since opening night. About halfway into its five-week schedule, the show has apparently lowered its handicap, dropping 30 or so minutes from the runtime, to end at less than two hours”.]
Joel: Your work is often a tribute to comic writers from the past. You say you often re-read the classic comedies. Who are some of your influences?
Ken: George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde and Kaufman and Hart.
Joel: Why do you enjoy having your plays performed here?
Ken: I love working in Washington because this is my home. It’s a joy to work with all the great actors and directors who live here.
Joel: What are you working on now?
Ken: I’ve just finished a new play which sets A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Jersey Shore. It’s called, not surprisingly, Midsummer/Jersey.
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing A Fox on the Fairway?
Ken: I hope they come away feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and happier than when they went in the door.
More from Ken Ludwig in this interview for Signature Theatre.
A Fox on the Fairway plays through November 14th at Signature Theatre, in Arlington, VA. Details are here.