The New Theatre serves up a physically handsome staging of Ken Ludwig’s golf-themed farce “The Fox on the Fairway” — a hit-and-miss script that is enlivened considerably by a talented cast.
I just wish it had been funnier.
Anchoring the production is screen star Dyan Cannon, outfitted in a long, lustrous, blond wig and a series of slinky costumes designed to defy the march of time. Cannon’s relative lack of stage experience shows, but she does have star quality. And at 76, she’s a remarkably limber and agile performer.
Director Richard Carrothers has surrounded her with accomplished veterans (Jim Korinke, Melinda MacDonald and Mark Robbins) and two bright young performers making their New Theatre debuts (Matt Holzfeind and Ashley Pankow.) This ensemble would seem to know all there is about comic timing, but too often the Thursday night performance seemed unable to deliver the laughs Ludwig intended.
The play is set against the backdrop of an annual tournament between two golf clubs — Quail Valley, the perpetual loser, and Crouching Squirrel, the inevitable winner.
Korinke plays Bingham, the Quail Valley president, who believes this year he’ll turn the tables because he has an expert golfer lined up for his team. But through the shrewd machinations of his Crouching Squirrel counterpart, Dickie (Robbins), he loses his advantage — but only after agreeing to a potentially ruinous bet with Dickie.
Pamela (Cannon), the philandering Dickie’s ex-wife, is a member of Quail Valley with a crush on Bingham. Bingham, in turn, is married to the pugnacious Muriel (MacDonald), who owns an antiques shop put at risk by the bet.
Louise (Pankow) is a Quail Valley maid with whom the club’s newest employee, Justin (Holzfeind), is madly in love.
Some of the inherent humor of the plot is limited by one simple fact: There’s no way to depict a golf tournament on stage. What we get instead are offstage announcements over a P.A. system and characters describing action on the links as they gaze through an imaginary window. What we do see is the interior of the Quail Valley clubhouse, vividly realized by scenic designer Jason Coale, which becomes the forum for characters whose thoughts tend to be dominated by sex and money.
Holzfeind and Pankow register superior comic performances and make an exceptionally appealing stage couple. Pankow was seen earlier this summer in “Footloose” at Starlight Theatre; here she demonstrates a quirky variation on the dumb blonde stereotype. Holzfeind uses his lanky frame shrewdly in a memorable physical performance.
Robbins and MacDonald are so adept at this style of comedy they make it look easy. Robbins motors along in his cynical, glib mode and MacDonald gives us a memorable fire-and-ice performance that is remarkably nuanced at times.
Korinke is seemingly on cruise control, although he demonstrates bursts of on-target timing. But the chemistry we need to see between Korinke and Cannon never materializes.
If you were to pick up a copy of Ludwig’s script and read the character descriptions, you’d discover that Pamela is 39 and Bingham is in his 40s. Theater, of course, is the art of make-believe, but Korinke and Cannon left those numbers in the dust long ago. They earn points by gamely tackling the assignment like the pros they are. Even so, a viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief has its limits.The show
“The Fox on the Fairway” runs through Nov. 3 at the New Theatre, 9299 Foster, Overland Park. For more information, call913-649-7469 or go to NewTheatre.com.