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THEATER REVIEW

Theater review: 'Fox on the Fairway' at Signature Theatre

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Shaped as a send-up of madcap British comedies, this Ken Ludwig production, playing at Signature Theatre through Nov. 14, keeps the action fast and the hijinks energized.

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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No one could claim that the actors in Ken Ludwig's oppressive new golf comedy "A Fox on the Fairway" are phoning it in. So much energy is expended in creating shtick to go with the shamelessly recycled sex, sports and alcohol jokes that you begin to wonder whether the real potential here is for supplying backup power for the local streetlights.

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The play, which officially opened on Sunday night at Signature Theatre in Arlington, features such swell talents as Holly Twyford, Aubrey Deeker, Andrew Long and Jeff McCarthy wearing kooky golf outfits, bursting through doors and shrieking as if someone were repeatedly attacking them with a Taser. They and their director, John Rando, especially go in for the shouting. It's a comedy rule, it seems, that the louder you can say a line or caterwaul in reaction to some hoary bit of high jinks, the more uproarious the moment becomes.

Well, that's the apparent theory, anyway. The press materials for this world premiere describe "A Fox on the Fairway" as "Ludwig's tribute to the great English farces of the 1930s and 1940s." If you say so! The humor feels more suited to the era of "Bewitched" -- with a coarser modern varnish. By the second mention of golf balls in a sexual context, you know precisely the level of wit that has been applied to this venture.

The mechanical plot revolves around a bet on a golf tournament between McCarthy's Bingham and his rival from another club, played by Long. Bingham is looking for a ringer and settles on the doltish new assistant at his club, Deeker's Justin. He's a very excitable golf whiz, however, and when his girlfriend (Meg Steedle) flushes her engagement ring down the toilet, his tee-off equilibrium vanishes. So Bingham and the club's booze-swilling, sex-starved trustee Pamela (Twyford) quickly have to come up with a replacement.

The premise is an excuse for the sort of patently silly predicaments that have cropped up on lower-common-denominator sitcoms for decades. Maybe it is because the American reflex for this brand of amusement is so well-developed that "A Fox on the Fairway" gets a rise out of some in the audience.

Rando, the director who shepherded the musical "Urinetown" to Broadway, knows how to keep the machinery percolating, so "A Fox on the Fairway" barrels along, even if the pistons seem to be running on triple espressos. James Kronzer's clubhouse set is suitably sporty, but some of the swankier dresses by costume designer Kathleen Geldard look as if they could use another fitting.

It's not necessary to be an avid follower of the career of Phil Mickelson or to pick up a four-iron yourself from time to time to be aware that Ludwig's golf-course joke book is a pretty dog-eared document. "A Fox on the Fairway" even borrows blatantly from the playwright's own manual, reusing a curtain-call reenactment gimmick from his "Lend Me a Tenor." This contributes to the feeling that we've all played this overbearing course way too many times before.

A Fox on the Fairway

by Ken Ludwig. Directed by John Rando. Lighting, Colin K. Bills; sound, Matt Rowe. With Valerie Leonard. About 2 hours 10 minutes. Through Nov. 14 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Call 703-573-7328 or visit http://www.signature-theater.org.


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