November 3, 2010 | by Patrick Folliard
Putting for laughs

Andrew Long, Holly Twyford and Jeff McCarthy in Ken Ludwig's 'A Fox on the Fairway,' which is being performed through Nov. 14 at Signature Theatre in Arlington. (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Signature)

‘A Fox on the Fairway’

Through Nov. 14

Signature Theatre

4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington

$50-$76

703-573-SEAT

Playwright Ken Ludwig’s new comedy “A Fox on the Fairway” is ostensibly about golf, but don’t let that scare you — barely a passing knowledge of the game is required. Much more off-putting are the farce’s forced fun and played-out sex and booze jokes that feel like they’ve been around since golf itself debuted in Scotland centuries ago.

Happily, Signature Theatre’s premiere production isn’t entirely laugh deficient thanks almost exclusively to director John Rando’s cast which includes talented, local notables Andrew Long, Aubrey Deeker, and Holly Twyford, who do their darnedest to enliven what is, at times, some pretty tiresome material.

The action kicks off with two country club presidents  — Valley Quail’s Bingham and Richard of Crouching Squirrel — making a wager. Bingham (Jeff McCarthy) bets rival club head Dickie (Andrew Long) a hefty sum of money and his battle axe wife’s (Valerie Leonard) antique shop that Valley Quail’s team will after many losses finally win the annual intra-club golf tournament. Just moments after shaking on it, Bingham learns that his prized player has defected to the competition, lured by Richard, who in addition to being Crouching Squirrel’s president, is a shifty developer with an off-putting penchant for bad malapropisms and outré golf sweaters.

Helped by Richard’s ex-wife Pamela, a wise-cracking lush played by Twyford who’s gay, Bingham taps his newly hired young assistant Justin (Deeker) to join the team.  A win once again seems imminent until Justin and his fiancée Louise (Meg Steedle), a naïve waitress at the club, fall into a tumultuous lovers’ quarrel.

What follows is broadly acted, slap sticky and loud, but not particularly snappy or smart. The plot gets bogged down in some rather endless scenes about a lost engagement heirloom engagement ring and how to keep Justin — who is overly sensitive and at the least distraction liable to blow his game — playing well. Also, there are the de rigueur farcical elements of slamming doors and running around in circles-, neither of which come off as particularly well-timed nor funny.

Still the cast is good: Steedle has some rather adorable moments commenting on the Greek epics which her character is studying at night school; and the exchanges between McCarthy and Deeker as bigwig boss and eager assistant are surely amusing.

And while Twyford is no stranger to comic turns (last spring she won a Helen Hayes Award for playing a brash, fast talking Hollywood agent in Signature’s production of gay playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy “The Little Dog Laughed.”), it’s a special treat seeing her don a long blonde wig, raise her heels and lower her neckline to assay Pamela, a man hungry dipso. She makes the most of her character’s racy, sitcom-ish ripostes, and plays a wonderful drunk scene in which she winds up supine on the clubhouse floor offering her mouth to be used as a golf tee.

Ludwig’s comedies, like his Broadway hit “Lend Me a Tenor” and the drag farce “Leading Ladies,” tend to elicit vastly different audience reaction ranging from stone-faced paralysis to chuckles to uproarious guffaws, and “A Fox on the Fairway” is no exception. For me, the pleasures of gay designer James Kronzer’s clubby taproom backed by a picturesque fairway set and a pretty top-notch cast are overshadowed by a disappointing script.

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