The Fox on the Fairwayby Ken Ludwig. Directed by Christine Decker.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Sophia L. Garder and Peter Langstaff; photo: provided
Meredith Meurs and Nick Piacente; photo: provided
"Well, Oprah, I come from a
long line of plumbers."
Non-sequitor heaven is a place that Ken Ludwig takes us in his play, The Fox on the Fairway, closing out its run at Oldcastle Theater in Bennington, Vermont. A tribute to old-fashioned British farces, it gives director Christine Decker a unique opportunity to establish a whole different career; she is an actress who has never failed to fulfill and surpass my expectations of her. With this play Director Decker and her six actors lead the way to non-stop hilarity and a performance style that can only be topped by the farcical mime/run mayhem recap that completes the show. As if appreciative laughter wasn’t enough Decker manages to top her non-stop direction with a romp that sends the audience out in tears from all that silliness.
Justin loves Louise and cannot find her in the opening moments of the play. This sets a tone which Decker and company manage to maintain throughout. A golf competition needs an obvious champion and Justin turns out to be just that man until his girlfriend breaks off their engagement and it isn’t until three scenes later that, in perfect W.S. Gilbert fashion, secrets revealed, a new champion is born, though almost confounded in the effort. That’s the plot. Now on to the performers.
Justin is played by Nick Piacente who has a body made entirely of rubber. His face and his voice are equally pliable and the result of all this flexibility is a most delightful and winning performance. Piacente is the only non-Equity member of this company and he comports himself with such professionalism that the only way to know that he and his cohorts are technically not peers is to read the minimal program. This is a young actor who should be going places and hopefully he will always have time to do another play. The stage is definitely his medium as he can be subtle and nuanced and also become farcially broad with alacrity.
Playing Louise, his sweetheart, is Meredith Meurs whose own talents for this form are considerable. Whether destroying a cannister of pretzels or announcing her intentions of not dining with her fiancé she is equally funny.
As her mentor in blocked love affairs is Sophia L. Garder’s Pamela. Here is an actress who completely understands innuendo and how to make it pay big time. The sexiest character in this play is Pamela who will do whatever is needed to get her man. Garder has a large face and she knows how to make us watch it and her bosom at the same time. She is a pro at this game.
Bingham, her repeat-farce love interest, is played here by Peter Langstaff who makes "funny" into a four syllable word. He is the straight man in the bunch, the white rabbit in the corner - you look at him and you don’t see funny the way you do with the others. But let him move, let him speak, and what you see now is what you get: a very funny guy. Bingham is the character whose problems the others must resolve and he gets considerably funnier in the second act when he is caught in a trap with his soon to be ex-wife, his best enemy, the youngsters, all badly stuck together in a room with a working microphone that takes its inanimate revenge on our Mr. Bingham.
Patrick Ellis Shea plays Dickie, Bingam’s rival club manager, whose taunts truly do hurt but they make their amazing points. Natalie Wilder plays Bingham’s society wife Muriel. Shea and Wilder have some fabulous opportunities to make television-like comic moments come to instant and unrelieved stage life. Neither one ever lets a moment like that get away from them.
What makes this show work is its constantly shifting love stories. What makes those stories amusing is Decker’s take on the relationships and how to show them. She is quite adept at the good stage pictures and the living frames that intrude on the picture’s space.
Kenneth Mooney amuses us with a solid and attractive set inhabited by people in the most wonderfully appropriate clothing. Sound plays an enormous role in this farce and Spencer Sweet is responsible for some of the most amazing effects I have heard of late.
What emerges from within all this amazing amusement is the high degree of talent participating from Decker through Piacente. The producer should get permission from the unions to film this one before the actors disband and then sell the show for fun and profit for years to come. And what is so funny is it could just happen, at which time I hope someone documents that struggle as the basis for this company coming back to do it all again. We’d like that!
This play closes today with a matinee performance. Go out and buy tickets and support this very worthwhile southern Vermont company in their new Bennington home. Call 802-447-0564 for a reservation NOW.