The comedy in The Fox on the Fairway feels forced at Coach House Theatre, and that doesn’t bode well.
Much of that can be blamed on the writing, which is lackluster compared with playwright Ken Ludwig’s earlier farces; they range from the hilarious Lend Me a Tenor to the far-fetched Leading Ladies, both of which have been produced at Akron community theaters in recent years.
The Fox on the Fairway, which follows Quail Valley Country Club President Bingham on his quest to secure a golf championship for his club, never reaches the sustained level of giddy hilarity or mayhem that’s intended with British-style farce. This script is lacking in the witty wordplay and mistaken identities that make the playwright’s other works so juicy.
Northeast Ohio audiences have seen a lot of Ludwig’s work, from the world premiere of his comedy-mystery The Game’s Afoot at Cleveland Play House in 2011 to many other productions at Coach House Theatre and Weathervane Community Playhouse. From Shakespeare in Hollywood to Moon Over Buffalo, audiences have come to equate Ludwig’s play with hysterical humor.
In Coach House’s The Fox on the Fairway, leading man and director Terry Burgler seems out of place in the country club scene as Bingham. His character’s neither suave nor desperate enough for us to believe that Bingham’s a manipulative, golf-crazy man.
Fox, billed as occurring in the present day, has a dated feel. Ludwig said he wrote the piece as a tribute to the breezy British farces of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, yet this 2010 work isn’t nearly as zany or complex as Lend Me a Tenor and Leading Ladies, which are intricately plotted.
At Coach House, each of the play’s actors has his or her comical character components, but these elements didn’t often come together seamlessly in Saturday night’s performance. The show also had some off-kilter dynamics and uncomfortable pauses between Burgler and Henry Bishop, who plays his rival.
Burgler’s Bingham did let his hair down with Dede Klein’s Pamela, one of the funniest characters, a heavy-drinking, sex-hungry divorcee. Their antics included a disastrous love scene and a crazy sight gag with a golf ball. Klein looks amazing in her gowns but some of her character’s jokes are trite.
The play’s only real confusion stems from a tiff between love interests Justin and Louise. That leads to some slamming doors as Pamela and Bingham chase the young couple in an attempt to still pull off a golf tournament win.
Holly Humes plays the girlishly ditzy waitress Louise — a stereotypical twit — while Kevin Glass is likable but has some really unnatural-looking, floundering body language as his golfer character starts to fall apart.
Bishop cuts one of the funniest figures as Dickie in his wild-colored golf sweaters and garish coordinated knickers and argyle socks. His best lines come when Dickie repeatedly butchers common sayings.
Karen Wood also does a humorous turn as the manly, camouflage-wearing Muriel, the wife Bingham wishes he didn’t have. One would like to see more of Wood, but their failing marriage isn’t well developed in the script.
The play, which contains some off-color dialogue, petting and sexual suggestiveness on stage, is most appropriate for teens and older.
A thorough recap of Ludwig’s story at the curtain call, done without words, is one of the best parts of this otherwise inconsistent show.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.