Encore Michigan

Tibbits hits an ace with ‘Fox on the Fairway’

Review August 11, 2017 Bridgette Redman

COLDWATER, Mich.–It may seem like a bit of a challenge to bring the game of golf onto a stage, but Ken Ludwig and Tibbits Summer Theatre are up to the task.

In Ludwig’s 2010 comedy, The Fox on the Fairway, two country clubs go head to head in their annual inter-club tourney. While this sounds like a lark, the stakes are high for the two respective managers of the club, as they are for two young club employees who are newly engaged, the one club’s vice president and the one director’s wife.

The two managers, Bingham (Alan Elliott) and Dickie (Paul Kerr) place a high-rolling bet on the game and Bingham, the Quail Valley Country Club manager, learns from his board vice president, Pamela (Gloria Logan) that the board plans to fire him if he doesn’t break the club’s 5-year losing streak against the Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club.

It’s a full-on farce with all the characteristics one expects from a farce—slamming doors, misunderstandings, surprise identities, sex, and constantly flipping fortunes. And because it is Ken Ludwig, it is also clever, with witty dialogue heavily steeped in references to literary greats such as Homer and Shakespeare.

Director Charles Burr makes sure the action never stops. He keeps his actors moving at a madcap pace, which is what makes this comedy effective. There are chase scenes, there are football scenes, there are dance scenes. “The Fox on the Fairway” is constantly on the move with none of the quiet whispering one might associate with the game of golf.

Elliott turns in a strong performance as the frustrated golf manager for whom everything is at risk. Bingham is used to making demands and expecting others to fall in line—coaxing is not part of his professional vocabulary. Elliott crafts this character to fall in line with a stereotype and then starts adding the shading so he goes beyond a stock character.

Ludwig’s three women easily fall into the types of mother, maiden and crone, even if their ages don’t exactly match up.

Logan’s Pamela has a long history with both golf club managers and has all the sexual liberation you would expect from a thrice-married woman of the modern day. Logan gives the character great sex appeal while still pulling out her maternal side as she tries to deal with the young lovers, Justin (Isaac Jankowski) and Louise (Beth Conley). Of the cast, she had the best diction and projection, making sure every line hit every seat.

Conley, whose Louise was a waitress at the club, played the mostly innocent who wasn’t above making out and groping. She played her character as highly excitable and made the character choice to speak at a high speed, a choice that worked well at setting her apart, though there were times that some additional articulation would have helped the audience understand what she was saying. That said, Conley was delightful as the ingénue and knew just how to portray her role.

Conley and Jankowski had excellent chemistry, both of them able to feed off each other and make the energy rise and rise in their scenes. They knew when to awkward and when to be over the top.

Jankowski made sure that Justin was full of surprises and that he revealed with a nonchalant delivery that was perfect in tone.

Donna Schulte, the play’s spicy crone, is Muriel, Bingham’s wife and Dickie’s crush. Schulte is constantly in command and adds a bull dog like interpretation of Muriel while still showing she’s more than meets the eye.

Kerr has the lonely role of Dickie, the one who every other character wants to lose. He makes the character obnoxious and arrogant and manages to sport well the most ugly of golf sweaters in a world where the fashion bar is already set low.

Together, the ensemble makes sure that every beat plays, and they get a lot of play out of each plot device, even the ones that can be seen a fairway away.

Kahliyah Copeny provides a closet full of costumes that contribute to the hilarity. There are patented sexy dresses each with their own name, golf-wear, suits and uniforms. The cast may be small, but the costumer’s job was not.

Frank Blackmore’s set design warmly recreates a private club tab room, complete with bar, fireplace and leather arm chairs. It is a realistic set that accurately suggests the stuffiness of a wealthy person’s domain.

The Fox on the Fairway not only demanded a lot from its set designer and costumer, but also from the properties tech, Hannah Cormier. She brought in plenty of alcoholic bottles, meals, golf paraphernalia and even oysters.

Tibbits Summer Theatre closes out its summer season with this delightful farce. It’s perfect summer fare—something light and humorous with just enough cleverness and reckless speed to make it entertaining and fun.

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