IF YOU GO
What: Comedy about rival golf clubs fighting for a championship - and the complicated love lives of six of the staff & members
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 23
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples
Cost: $35 and $40
Information: 866-811-4111 or gulfshoreplayhouse.org
NAPLES — Gulfshore Playhouse knocked one straight off the tee and hit a hole in one Friday. Farce "The Fox on the Fairway," which mixes golf, romance and fashion keeps the audience in stitches. Pitching wedges, drivers, putters and nine irons - golf was never so much fun.
"The Fox on the Fairway" comes from Ken Ludwig; he also wrote "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo." Quail Valley Golf Club faces Crouching Squirrel in the inter-club championship. Quail Valley's director, Henry Bingham, makes an outrageous bet on the match - and things go wrong. Bumbling assistant Justin takes the field, with Quail Valley's pride, Henry's job - and the honor of Justin's brand-new fiance Louise - at stake.
With a farce, a show needs to spark and build momentum rapidly. "Fox" does, thanks mostly to a clever opening sequence that features the characters walking through the four doors into and out of the set looking for each other. At various times they stop, face the audience and drop bon mots like "Golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at them." How's that for an opening?
Director Matt Lenz, Gulfshore Playhouse's first-ever guest director, keeps the pace moving and tees up the show's silly moments for the big laughs they require. The result? A smooth, effortless production with laughs every minute from a cast that looks like they're having a blast on stage.
A professional ensemble that meshes seamlessly in an endless number of combinations offers perhaps the most satisfying experience of the night. Each brings quirks and additions to the role that embellish a good, but not fantastic script.
Consider energetic, rosy-cheeked Chris Dwan (Justin), who twice makes an exit to the funky bounce of Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger." Or Michele Tauber, who elevates her one-note harridan wife Muriel to a screamingly funny comic confection. Her entrance (in a frightening hairdo that towers off her head) lifts the show just the notch it needs.
No farce arrives on stage (or comes in under par) without mixed-up romance.
Dwan and a delightfully ditzy Jenny Strassburg make out on a chair, kiss in the kitchen and break up and make up after she loses an antique wedding ring down the toilet.
Carol Halsted (Pamela Peabody) drinks her way through the first and second acts as a sloshed club officer. ("Drink?" "At 10:15 in the morning?" "I know, I got a late start." She puts a spin on the lines - and moves on James Judy's club director Bingham, even though they're both married to other people. There's even a moment when she's caught kissing poor Justin - and becomes stricken with "hysterical blindness" and starts stumbling around the stage like a drunk wearing high heels at a New Year's Eve party.
Eric Hoffman takes to the part of rival Crouching Squirrel golf scion with gusto. Audiences will hate his arrogant, self-confident sneer - if they don't already know a strutting braggart like him. He and Tauber re-kindle an old romance in a brilliantly comic scene between the two most unlikeable characters in the play where they discuss, of all things, a documentary on the Luftwaffe. ("You said you found all that efficiency very exciting!"
Costume designer Jennifer Murray found some of the ugliest golf clothes known to man to dress Hoffman in (his obnoxious character has awful taste). This includes eye-searing multi-colored striped pants that make rainbows blush with shame. Perhaps the best though is a hideously appropriate cardigan embroidered with scenes from a golf match across the stomach. It's the kind of thing you give (or get) for Father's Day - and never see again. Look for other surprises, including a fashionable black and white column dress for Halstead.
Gulfshore Playhouse uses board member and local talk radio personality Bob Harden for the voice of the radio announcer in the play. The script also contains opportunities for theaters to drop in names of local notables in the place of members of the golf club; Harden and restauranteur Phil McCabe took honors on opening night.
Dennis W. Moyes went for the clean lines of Art Deco in drafting a set that makes the Norris Center stage look and feel spacious. Cool hues of lilac, periwinkle, mint and lavender offer minimalist depth - and open up the space. Two swinging door at stage left feature curved cutouts - and are in constant motion; this adds to the sense of movement in the play.
An enormous painting of the 18th hole dominates the back wall. Classic white French doors frame the vista (characters come and go through these too). For the play's climactic finale, the doors slide out, the furniture disappears - and the characters golf!
Much of the auditory realism - whistling golf drives, the agonizing gurgle of a ball circling the cup, the splash of a water hazard - comes from sound designer Anna Alex. Fear not though, you don't have to know a putter from a par five to enjoy the show.
While golf might be, as Mark Twain said "a good walk spoiled," "A Fox on the Fairway" brings laughs to the greens. The show balances comedy, silliness and a talented ensemble to create a light, amusing evening on the links. Admire the details of the fabulous Art Deco set. Look for Judy and Halstead in a fun comic pairing. And howl when Michele Tauber makes her grand, screaming entrance.
I have never played a round of golf. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.