By Sue Merrell
In Tuesday’s curtain speech before the first main stage show of the season, Augusta Barn Theatre producer Brendan Ragotzy apologized because “The Fox on the Fairway” is “just a play” while the remaining six shows will be musicals.
That wiley fox! He knew he was about to open the curtain on a hole in one.
He knew playwright Ken Ludwig had penned a sassy script equal to his popular farce “Lend Me a Tenor.” And as the director, Ragotzy certainly knew the break neck pace he had set for his talented cast of six.
Just when you think this play has gotten as crazy as it can get, it gets even crazier, including a raucous reprise at curtain call that will send you to your car laughing.
It all takes place during the annual golf tournament at Quail Valley Country Club. Every year Quail Valley loses to the Crouching Squirrels, but this year QV’s determined president, Bingham (Roy Brown), thinks he has a ringer in the lineup. He makes an outrageous bet with Dickie (Eric Parker), the pompous leader of the Squirrels. Naturally, the expected ringer gongs out, but the last minute replacement, Justin (Patrick Hunter), has a surprisingly great game until he runs into trouble with his fiance, Louise (Bethany Edlund), a waitress at the club.
As with any door-slamming farce, this show is filled with chase scenes and ridiculous misunderstandings, as well as a valuable antique vase that you just know is going to get broken any minute. But what really keeps this show grounded is the solid, believable personalities of Bingham and Dickie, which Brown and Parker create perfectly.
Dickie’s bright sweaters and gaudy slacks may clash loudly, but Parker’s chin up swagger sells the ensemble. He can make a whole dialogue out of repeating “Eh?” And he mangles trite maxims so convincingly that his new versions almost make sense.
Brown also stands out as the impatient Bingham, a sort of encouraging coach turned unreasonable drill sergeant. Even in the most ridiculous chase scenes, clutching that antique vase, he keeps his character believable. Anyone familiar with Brown’s repertoire at The Barn knows this actor is certainly capable of over-the-top extremes, but this time he keeps it real and it works.
Pamela, Quail Valley’s sexy vice president and Dickie’s ex-wife, is played by Emily Fleming who is also a steadying force in this madness. She has some of the best quips, delivered with a sly smile. When she’s spewing venom about her ex-husband, you can almost see the smoke coming out of her ears. At one point she calms the chaos by feigning blindness.
To a lesser extent, Amy Harpenau, who portrays Bingham’s wife, Muriel, also provides a degree of sanity.
That leaves Justin and Louise, the star-struck lovers, free to overact outrageously – and Hunter and Edlund do. Edlund’s bodacious blubbering can be turned on and off like a faucet, and her wide-eyed cluelessness is just as wacky. Hunter can go from confident golf pro to roll-on-the-floor wreck at the drop of a ring.
All the action takes place in the club’s Tap Room, but set designer Steven Lee Burright has painted the walls and doors to bring the outside in, and it has the wonderful feel of the fairway. Costume designer Michael Wilson Morgan has a great collection of appropriate wear for the characters.
Ludwig spices his script with some witty sayings about golf, and there’s a small amount of sports jargon but not so much that a duffer like me won’t understand.
Looks like a winning season at The Barn is teeing off. Fore!
‘The Fox on the Fairway’
Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta. Tuesday-Sunday through June 17. 135 minutes. $34. 269-731-4121. http://www.barntheatre.com