If you are a fan of madcap comedy and slapstick shenanigans, Stockton Civic Theatre has just the play for you. Its current production of “The Fox on the Fairway,” now in the final week of performances, is an anything-goes farce designed to tickle your funnybone with a preposterous plot and characters whose emotions run as freely as—well, as freely as a fox on a golf course.
If you’ve never seen a full-blown stage farce before, you’re in for a surprise and perhaps a treat, depending on your sense of humor and your tolerance for wacky characters and stagecraft to match their moods.
Farce is a comically overdramatic medium that presents the dilemmas of those trying desperately to make sense of a world that baffles and frustrates them. In this case, it keeps them running in and out of doors, falling in and out of love, and broadcasting their predicaments with the grumbles, shouts and wails of panic attacks.
All may come right in the end, or so you hope, but until then, you are treated to a spectacle of unbridled human nature that makes you glad you’re a reasonable and sensible human being (assuming you happen to be one of this rare species).
The farcical events of Ken Ludwig’s play commence inside the hospitality room of the mythical Quail Valley Country Club. The club’s worried chief, Henry Bingham (James Kusy), is intent on outsmarting arch-rival DIckie Bell (Jaye Lee Vocque) to win a bet he can’t afford on an upcoming golf tournament. Dickie, the president of the Crouching Squirrel Country Club, is a big, confident man with a cartoonish tone of voice, confidence that his club’s team will remain undefeated (as it has for years), and a fondness for wearing sweaters that are an insult to fashion..
Bingham is a grumpy, hard-drinking rascal with a curmudgeonly wife named Muriel (Jeanine Michael Kiley) who has a comically terrible tone of voice on the telephone and an unrestrained temper in person. She has every right to be annoyed with a husband who is a little too familiar with employee Pamela Peabody (Nikki Pendley). Pretty Pam is a lady who has had no luck with husbands and marriages, but has not abandoned her hunt for true love. When she finds it in Henry, of all people, their little secret goes public in a hurry due to Henry’s carelessness with the golf club’s PA system. Wouldn’t you know!
The Bingham-Bell rivalry is matched by the on-again, off-again love affair of two club employees—an overly emotional young man named Justin (Jack Lechich) and his equally emotional girl, Louise (Dani Loera). The two are constantly finding reasons to couple and uncouple, smooch and separate, and chase one another all over the premises as they try to resolve matters. In their case, resolution seems unlikely.
Mix the six of these characters together as playwright Ludwig does and you have all the scramble necessary for a crisis (perhaps catastrophe would be the better word). Emotions spin out of control and individuals get their share of exercise bursting in and out of the room, exactly what you would expect from the restless characters of a farce. There are also little distractions like the sad fate of an engagement ring and the questionable authenticity of a Ming Dynasty vase, not to mention an inebriated Bingham’s risky attempt to hit a golf ball off the head of the prostrate Pamela. It’s his idea of indoor sport when he’s had a few too many.
One can only imagine the challenge for director Yolla Ryder and stage managers Dahlia Vocque and Madeline Yee to keep actors moving and emoting as they do. The momentum of the play accelerates in its second act and culminates with a finale of characters in high-speed actions and interactions, set to the galloping cadence of the “William Tell” overture. This lively pantomime is a clever reprise of the storyline and won warm applause from the audience with whom I attended a matinee.
“It’s a wonder they had any energy left to do that,” one theatergoer marveled.
“I don’t think any of them missed their lines,” said another.
Truth to tell, there was something here that I missed. Given the title of the play, I half expected to see a little animal with red fur, sharp snout and bushy make a well-trained guest appearance and steal a golf ball. But no matter. The show was sponsored by Swenson Park Golf Course and a thank you flyer from SCT to Swenson, found in my program, showed the golf course logo–a profile of a seated fox with the motto “Celebrating 70 years.” Got my fox, after all.
“The Fox on the Fairway” is far from an easy play to perform, and though there are moments in the first act when the farce loses steam, the SCT cast revs up the pace following intermission with a flair that makes you appreciate not only the expenditure of their energies but the scope of their talents.
Listen closely to the performers who come and go at the beginning of each act with a series of witticisms, such as “Sex and golf are two things you don’t have to be good at to enjoy.” Speaking of which, Henry will have little to enjoy—and a massive loss of $—if he doesn’t find a way to get the emotionally overwrought Justin back at the top of his game. Justin can be as good as a pro if his girl friend doesn’t make him go to pieces all over again. Can he remain stable when the chips are down at the Quail Valley versus Crouching Squirrel classic?
Never mind the combative hoopsters and delirious fans of March Madness. This is April Madness, courtesy of the Stockton Civic Theatre.
Performances: Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m.
Final performance: April 23
Tickets: Adults $29. Seniors $24. Students $17
Box Office: (209) 473-2424. Theatre Office: (209) 473-2400. Hours: Tues-Fri 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 hours before performances.
A retired reporter and editor, Stockton resident Howard Lachtman has written Delta-centered detective stories, Stockton Civic Theatre reviews and a variety of baseball tales for Soundings. In 2006. he was honored by the Stockton Arts Commission for “24 years of superior review and commentary on the performing and literary arts in Stockton.”
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