I once counted 11 doors on the set of a local play; for the moment, that was enough to persuade me that a farce was at hand. In the medium’s best traditions, the doors creaked, shook and slammed with a vengeance, and the cast had the time of their lives with the schticky plot, which correctly trumped character development as the driving force behind the show. This trickiest of genres had been mastered to perfection, and everybody went home happy.
There are only four doors on the set of North Coast Repertory Theatre’s current The Fox on the Fairway (actually three, as one’s just kind of a portal) – and while that in itself doesn’t make this show any less an attempt at farce, it speaks volumes about playwright Ken Ludwig’s comparative effort. The Fox on the Fairway is a decidedly weak (nay, breathtakingly anemic) pretender to the medium, lapsing into passage after passage of storytelling rather than storyshowing. Madcap replaces hilarity; speechifying substitutes for anecdote; and impulse eclipses comic timing – alas, the cast’s game and honest effort is no match for a script that rarely assumes its chemistry, or any chemistry at all.
For one thing, Ludwig never bothers to explain why he’s chosen a country club – usually a bastion for elitist snobs who hide behind the illusion of accomplishment – as the setting for a story about the vagaries of hungry young love. He’s pinpointed the color of the situation fairly well, with a huffiness surrounding the competition of the moment – the annual tilt between Quail Valley Golf Club and rival Crouching Squirrel, which the latter has won the last five years. What ensues is a game of musical chairs, with Quail Valley honcho Henry Bingham discovering one, then two, antidotes to the string of losses.
[Dickie’s] golf sweaters were knitted by somebody else and designed by mistake.
Requisite improbables surround the scenario, with the eventual tournament champ losing her engagement ring down the toilet, the upshot from a side bet that involves the potential loss of Bingham’s wife’s antique shop and the constant bray from Crouching Squirrel director Dickie Bell, whose golf sweaters were knitted by somebody else and designed by mistake.
But my, oh my, oh my; waves of subtext are strewn throughout and along the rough of each and every hole, the potential for anecdote replaced with raw outline. We’re never introduced to heroes Louise and Justin (Ashley Stults and Kyle Sorrell) beyond the fact of their engagement; what brought them together is absolutely anybody’s guess. Bingham is an utterly generic character, although Kevin Bailey gives him a certain authentic comportment. Brian Salmon holds his own as Dickie, but as with Bingham, the part doesn’t home in on golf so much as on Dickie’s ego. Jacquelyn Ritz’s Pamela sits around and provides the sex jokes, while Roxane Carrasco is more than decent as Muriel, Bingham’s fishwife.
Marty Burnett’s set fuels the tech effort, using every inch of the physical space to create a country-club swank. The rest of the tech works too, as costumer Elisa Benzoni goes out of her way to create Dickie’s space-alien sweaters, of which he sadly owns more than one.
But there’s something breathless, indeed desperate, about this Matthew Wiener-helmed production, owing to Ludwig’s insistence that his characters push themselves on us rather than collaborate on a storyline for its own sake. You can have the most magnificent set, the most telling dressage, the most authentic lighting and the most descriptive sound coloring your play – and if you fail to provide them a vehicle, they look that much worse, as they unwittingly take on lives of their own. The Fox on the Fairway is an exacting case in point, irredeemably falling prey to its interminably misdirected excess and terribly executed sleight of hand.
Molière garnered a certain success with this formula amid his 17th-century French audiences’ excitability – but that was then, and this is now. Take his stuff out of context, and I like him about as much as I did this show.
This review is based on the matinee performance of Sept. 13. The Fox on the Fairway runs through Oct. 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. $43-$50. 858-451-1055, northcoastrep.org.