Star rating: *** out of 4
Legendary Warner Brothers producer and animator Chuck Jones once said, “Comedy is unusual people in real situations; farce is real people in unusual situations.” Washingtonian and Tony Award-nominated playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) seems to disagree. His newest play, A Fox on the Fairway—a world premiere at Arlington’s Signature Theatre, directed by John Rando—relies less on character realism than on sheer absurdity, but thanks to an outstanding cast, the hoary clichés of farce (double-entendres, awkward physical clinches, obvious impending catastrophe) make for some thorough, mindless golf-themed entertainment.
The scene is Quail Valley Country Club, a snobby establishment where drinks come with breakfast and golf comes with everything. Mr. Bingham (Jeff McCarthy), the imperious but sympathetic club director, bets his rival, Richard, the hilariously awful and incessantly stupid director of Crouching Squirrel Golf Club (played brilliantly by Shakespeare Theatre Company regular Andrew Long), that Quail Valley will win this year. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Bingham, Richard has poached his best player, Tramplemaine, and enticed Bingham into wagering $200,000 and his prickly wife’s antiques shop.
Cue the need to find a replacement to beat Tramplemaine; keep said replacement calm in the face of romantic trauma; and keep Bingham’s frosty old boot of a wife, Muriel (Valerie Leonard), from finding out about the bet.
Needless to say, none of these things go smoothly. Bingham’s assistant, Justin (Aubrey Deeker), fills in for Tramplemaine, and he regularly scores in the 60s and has no handicap. But his fiancée, the ditzy Louise (Meg Steedle), threatens his equilibrium when she loses his grandmother’s engagement ring and then breaks up with him. Muriel arrives just in time to see her husband pretending to confess to an affair with the club treasurer, Pamela (the show-stealing, perpetually inappropriate Holly Twyford).
A few subplots complicate matters further, including a secret Internet romance between Muriel and Richard, a mysterious birthmark, a $10,000 Ming vase, and a drunken liaison between Bingham and Pamela that’s accidentally broadcast over the speaker system. As the Champagne-swilling, busty Pamela, Twyford demonstrates exactly how she has won four Helen Hayes Awards, managing to pull off vodka-breathing charm and acid-tongued snootiness at the same time. Andrew Long’s Richard is right behind her, delivering lines both through and down his nose, perfecting the art of the mixed-up proverb, and wearing an endless array of awful golf sweaters.
Ludwig’s play is inspired by some of the great British farces of the last century, including Philip King’s 1944 See How They Run, which debuted the line “Darling, a woman with a bottom like that could say anything.” But he also owes a considerable debt to television, particularly The Benny Hill Show, where each episode featured a recurring gag of near-naked women and middle-aged men running in circles for no apparent reason. No farce would be complete without a few slammed doors and improbable action scenes, and A Fox on the Fairway has plenty. But it also has a cast with sufficient charisma and good humor to carry it all off without eliciting too much groaning.