I tell you, those folks at the Invisible Theatre have no fear. Far be it for them to be dissuaded from producing a full-out farce, complete with a sizable cast chasing each other and doing pratfalls and other broad physical comedy stunts on a stage the size of a beach towel.
Last week, IT opened its last show of the season, a truly silly, old-style comedy, The Fox on the Fairway by Ken Ludwig. The resulting laughs—and groans—are abundant.
But, one could ask, why in the world would IT produce what is essentially dinner theater fare? Whatever. The fact is they did, and if you like this sort of silliness you're in luck, because they do a good job.
Ludwig, who has given us the comedies Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You and Moon Over Buffalo, gives us a story that is the typically twisted one of a farce, with little requirement for plausibility or anything remotely believable. The focus is on broad characters in extreme situations with surprising plot turns, secret liaisons, lovers' quarrels and more misunderstandings and miscues than hazards on a golf course.
Here, Ludwig covers all these bases in spades. His story focuses on golf, a subject which itself holds the potential for all manner of jokes, and Ludwig finds them all.
The setting is the traditional tournament between two rival clubs, the Quail Valley Country Club headed by Bingham (William Hubbard) and the Crouching Squirrels of Dickie's (Jack Neubeck) club. They make a ridiculously overwrought bet about who will win the tourney. Bingham even throws into the wager his wife's antique shop because he thinks he has a golfer who will have no trouble winning. But it turns out that his golfer has switched clubs and is now playing for Dickie. With so much at stake, Bingham scuffles around for someone who might be able to crush the Crouching Squirrels.
And wouldn't you know it? A young man, Justin (RD Mower), he has just hired to work at the club turns out to be a phenomenal golfer. Justin's requisite club membership is accomplished by circumventing some rules, and when the tourney gets underway he takes a huge lead.
Now, Justin has just proposed to Louise (Lucille Petty), a waitress in the club's dining room. She is greatly distressed when she discovers she's lost the ring, and because Justin is a rather high-strung sort, she is encouraged not to share this bit of information with him for fear it will interfere with his game. But there's a rain delay, and when he comes into the clubhouse she spills the beans and he clumsily breaks his arm taking an angry and ill-advised swing with a golf club. The chance of victory seems to be slipping away from Quail Valley and—well, you get the picture. How will this ever-more-complicated situation be resolved?
This kind of show requires a director who can choreograph the actions of the characters carefully and deliberately and orchestrate a pace that builds and swells as the complications grow. Veteran Susan Claassen understands this well and does a good job directing traffic with farcical finesse. She also is not afraid to utilize some cheap comic tricks, but usually does so knowingly, with a wink-wink implied.
Claassen had also assembled a competent cast willing and able to play along with the excesses of Ludwig's tale, and for the most part they are well matched in their comedy skills. They know how to get a laugh, and they mine Ludwig's dialogue for every possible yuck.
What might not be so obvious is that no matter how funny Ludwig's lines might be, they would fall flat if they weren't delivered by credible—within the context Ludwig gives us—characters. And for the most part, the actors embrace their characters without judgment and so avoid caricatures. Because the characters don't find themselves funny, we can.
Petty and Mower are a sweet couple. Young Petty is ubiquitous on Tucson stages these days, and Mower, who will graduate from the University of Arizona's theater program this spring, gives us an earnest though high-strung suitor.
Neubeck and Hubbard are well-matched as the country club execs, although Neubeck could be a bit more the villain. Really, the biggest thing we have against him is his terrible fashion sense. And Lori Hunt brings her well-honed comedic skills to the role of Pamela, Bingham's currently unattached assistant who has tallied multiple divorces, although that fact doesn't seem to have stymied her search for romance.
Especially with a stage the size of IT's, it's a challenge to create a set for a show like this one. Designers Claassen and James Blair do a really good job defining multiple spaces, and they miraculously create the illusion of numerous entrances and exits. And scenery painter Tom Benson, whose work is regularly on display at the Gaslight Theatre, provides us with a rather extravagant visual surprise.
Costumer Maryann Trombino has lots of fun with the excesses of golf fashion, especially in the creation of a sweater that is so over the top it's mesmerizing. In fact, all the technical components work together well, supporting and supplementing Claassen's vision.
The Fox on the Fairway is fast and fun and full of silly. Theatrically speaking, it might not be a hole-in-one, but it's at least a well-played birdie.