Review: First-rate performances redeem imperfect ‘Fox on the Fairway’ script

“Golf is nothing but a good walk. Spoiled.” This paraphrased Mark Twainism opens “The Fox on the Fairway,” the most recent slamming-doors farce from playwright Ken Ludwig, now playing at The New Vic Theatre in Kalamazoo.

The ridiculous, convoluted plot, indeed, revolves around a supremely frustrating golf game with more riding on it than anyone realizes. Henry, president of the Quail Valley Country Club, foolishly places a huge bet with his rival, the irritatingly cocky, idiom-twisting, ugly-golf-sweater-wearing idiot, Dickie.

Of course, then Henry learns his winning player will actually play for Dickie. Miraculously, Bingham finds an unlikely replacement in his recently-hired hand, Justin, who turns out to be an ace golfer, though skittish and eccentric in his rituals.

When his new fiancée loses her heirloom engagement ring, however, Justin shifts into a tailspin that then sets off Henry, which has a domino effect on the other four characters on stage, putting into motion false bouts of hysterical blindness, sufficient drunkenness, revelations of illegitimate children, divorce, and a particularly amusing oyster nearly lost for good down the front of the sparkly low-cut dress of Quail Valley’s hypersexual, undersexed vice president.

More than spoiled, this good walk is downright dizzying.

Ludwig’s script is not his best, and the writing veers toward bad sitcom at times, often becoming over-reliant on sexual innuendo (one crack about kissing balls for luck is more than enough) and alcohol-fueled inanity with more than a hint of misogyny and racism. However, Director James Furney’s sharp cast at the New Vic, prominently led by Michael P. Martin as an hilarious Henry, with impeccable timing, avoid the bunkers in the script to nearly make a hole in one.

The success of any farce lies predominantly in its pacing, and this cast of six consistently hits the mark with aplomb on a small stage with three doors, two of which swing in and out.

In and out the actors go, racing, frog leaping, yelling, wiggling, writhing, poking, groping, tripping, and throwing balls and themselves into and around each other. The physical comedy is as spot-on as the timing, and it elicits laughs while effectively distracting the audience from becoming overwhelmed by the ridiculous rapid-fire complications. This thing moves, quickly and beautifully, slipping right past the clunky parts of the script.

Luckily, Michael P. Martin as Henry is in nearly every scene, and therefore every scene is lively, smart and wittier than it deserves. He brings out the best in scenes with the frenetic but fun Josh White as an earnest and floppy-haired Justin and Heidi Cernik as a bawdy but at times wooden Pamela.

Adam Ostrander is a wonderful Dickie, utterly bringing to life this lovable jerk; Anna Mundo brings enormous presence to the role of Muriel, almost more than the space can handle; and Jackie Wiles’ ditzy Louise is a vivacious delight.

And together, this motley crew of six brings so much commitment and focused energy to this mediocre script, they transform it into high entertainment with a modest wood-paneled set and simple lights and sound.

In the end, this dizzying walk isn’t spoiled at all. Thanks to terrific timing and skillful physical comedy, The New Vic pulls off this goofy golf farce with gusto.

The Fox on the Fairway
The New Vic Theatre
134 East Vine Street, Kalamazoo
Through April 15