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San Francisco by Patrick Thomas

The Fox on the Fairway
Ross Valley Players

Also see Richard's reviews of An Audience with Meow Meow and A Midsummer Night's Dream and Patrick's review of Fiddler on the Roof


Javier Alarcon, Louis Singleton, Eileen Fisher, Sumi Narendran and Derek Jepson (in back)
The Fox on the Fairway, now in production by the Ross Valley Players, is a farce. However, there are three definitions of the noun "farce," and this play matches up to two of them. Yes, it's "a theatrical composition in which broad improbabilities of plot and characterization are used for humorous effect." Unfortunately, it's also "a ludicrous and empty show." After spending two hours in the Barn Theatre where the laughs came about as often as Rory McIlroy makes a double-bogey, I wished the show had fit the third definition of "farce": a seasoned stuffing. That, at least, would have had a chance of being satisfying.

The play was written by Ken Ludwig, an accomplished playwright whose Lend Me a Tenor won three Tony Awards and was nominated for nine. It's the story of two rival country clubs facing off in a match with significant stakes (and personal honor) on the line. Henry Bingham (Louis Schilling), president of the match's host club Quail Valley, having lost this annual match with rivals Crouching Squirrel Golf & Racquet Club for five years running, has bet big on the contest, believing he's found a ringer. When it turns out his secret weapon has betrayed him and will now play for Crouching Squirrel, all appears lost.

Of course, Bingham is not alone in his troubles. It wouldn't be much of a farce if he were. Misunderstandings abound, love is thwarted at every turn, and very little goes as planned. This would seem to be a formula for great theatrical fun. And it would be, except for two key things: neither the play, nor this production of it, is very good.

All of the performers are brave enough to risk looking silly—which is vital to the success of a farce, given the physical humor that is almost always a vital aspect of a good farce. Sadly, looking silly is about the most any of these performers accomplish. None of the six actors seem to have any real comic sensibility. Yes, they can roll on the floor with their legs in the air and mug and pull faces and shriek—but they don't know how to make you laugh by doing so. It doesn't help that Ludwig's text is short on truly funny lines and long on cheap sexual innuendo (did you really need two references to "balls," Mr. Ludwig?) and golfing clichés. In fact, Ludwig seems to know very little about golf, writing at one point that women don't generally compete against men because "they don't score as high." How did that one get past a dramaturg?

Director Julianna Rees's cast has taken this mediocre play and managed to make it even less funny than it is on the page. None of the couples have any chemistry, no one seems to have even a rudimentary grasp on comic timing, and the whole thing ends up like a hacker in a sand trap, who—no matter how he flails—can't seem to get out of that bunker.

At the top of the first and second acts, each character appears onstage, breaking the fourth wall to deliver a well-worn golf cliché to the audience, one of which is "golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at them." Note that "theatre" is not part of that list, and for it to be enjoyable, we need someone to be good at it. Tragically, from playwright to director to cast, no one here meets that standard. In golf parlance, The Fox on the Fairway is a total shank.

The Fox on the Fairway plays Thursdays-Sundays through October 12, 2014, at the Barn Theatre in Ross. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Weekend ticket prices are $29 general admission, $25 for seniors (62+) and $14 for children under 18. Thursday night tickets are $23 for adults and $14 for children and students with a valid high school or college ID. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting www.rossvalleyplayers.com.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas



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