“Make ‘Em Laugh! Make ‘Em Laugh! Make ‘Em Laugh!”
That was the Donald O’Connor number in Singin’ in the Rain, and we laughed. Yet in The Fox on the Fairway, DHT’s latest comedy effort, the exhortation sounds more like a command than an invitation. It’s all the playwright’s fault. Ken Ludwig has tossed off an attempt at farce that might have seemed titillating in the 50s but now seems flat and predictable. When the audio system doesn’t work in Scene Two, you know it will work disastrously in Scene Three. When an expensive vase is introduced into the plot, you know it will break; you’re just waiting--interminably-- for when. The sexual innuendos nowadays just seem icky.
The plot, such as it is, involves two country clubs in competition for the Golf Tournament prize. Laughs were hard to come by in the first act, and I saw quite a few glum faces at the intermission. Things had picked up during Act II, mainly because of the physical comedy, not the lame jokes, and the show concludes with what is called an “Encore.” This involves the cast running like mad through all the antics of the show in fast-forward mode. The gag is very funny and of course sends the audience into gales of laughter and out the door with a very positive memory of the play. Ludwig used the gimmick before in “Lend Me a Tenor.”
The cast of six includes the presidents of the rival clubs, a wife and an ex-wife, and a young couple whose mood swings drive the plot. Daniel Connell (Justin) and Therese Olival (Louise) have the youthful energy and chemistry to convince us that they are meant for each other--eventually. Connell uses his height to great advantage when the comedy turns physical.
The two presidents, Bingham, played by David Heulitt, and Dickie Bell, played by Mathias Maas, each one thinking he has the star golfer on his team, make an enormous bet on the outcome. Bell appears in one outlandish outfit after another, and I have to wonder why Bingham, whose character is almost equally prone to emotional and competitive excess, is dressed very conservatively. I’ll have to ask costumer Karen G. Wolfe.
Bingham’s wife Muriel, who is often referred to as The Old Crock (which is the name of her antique store), is played by Shannon Winpenny as half harridan and half nymphomaniac. Ludwig’s idea of humor, I suppose.
Bell’s ex-wife Pamela, now an official in Bingham’s club, is played by Brooke Channon Dee. Dee has great stage presence and a good feel for the comedy, but the character, as written, is a thrice-married, vaguely sleazy broad with a drinking problem. This too is supposed to be funny.
Many in the audience laughed when it was expected of them, but this was not the uproarious farce that Wayne Harada saw. His very positive review appeared in the Monday Star Advertiser. I know we were not at the same performance--I attended the Sunday matinee--but whereas Harada saw “a hole in one,” I saw a double-bogey.
The cast did its best to bring off a not-very-good play, and I think the majority of the audience left satisfied, but recycled comedy by the numbers is nowhere near as satisfying as what UH Mānoa is doing with Twelfth Night in the Campus Center Ballroom (three more performances Feb. 3 and 4). It’s the difference between a good plate lunch and a gourmet dinner. Maybe the difference is in the taste buds of the individual diner.
One last note. In the program the director Rob Duval ponders the question: “Who is the fox” on the fairway? His hint points us toward one of our six characters. I wonder--Did he consider that the word “fox” might be a punning substitution for some other word, in keeping with Ludwig’s sophomoric sexual humor?