There are far better written farces than “The Fox on the Fairway,” but they aren’t set on a golf course, and in its four-decade history, Penobscot Theatre Company probably has done them all at least once, if not twice.
Ken Ludwig’s 2010 play that this month kicked off PTC’s 40th season is a predictable physical comedy full of crude jokes about sex, booze and (golf) balls that is dragged out of mediocrity by a fine cast of local actors and high production values.
The six-character romp takes place during an annual golf tournament between two rival country clubs on which a high wager has been staked. There are young star-crossed lovers, whose romance is nearly undone by plumbing, and mature couples who find their soulmates in the clubhouse.
And, one of them is in drag. It’s a theatrical device long used in farce that has nothing to do with the plot of the play.
Dominick Varney, Ben Layman, Christie Robinson, AJ Mooney, Brent Hutchins and Bernard Hope, who make up the cast, are some of the area’s finest actors. All work long and hard to pull Ludwig’s script out of the rough and they nearly succeed.
Varney and Robinson’s ditzy pair provide much of the physical comedy. It is their slapstick antics as the young lovers that evoke most of the laughs. Without their energy, “The Fox on the Fairway” could have ended up stuck in a sand trap for two far-too-long acts.
Mooney and Hope wring every drop of comedy out of their roles with Hutchins and Layman as their respective foils. This is a quartet of experienced, workhorse actors who pull the production down the fairway and give the characters far more depth than they deserve.
Director Shelley Butler, an Orono High School graduate, has expertly paced and blocked the play. She uses every inch of the stage, which includes an extension that brings the action closer to the audience, to accentuate the physical comedy. Butler beautifully choreographed the slow-motion, near-fumble of an expensive vase that is one of the few highlights of Ludwig’s script.
The production of “The Fox on the Fairway” looks and sounds great thanks to set and costume designer Lex Liang, lighting designer Scott Bolman, property designer Meredith Perry and sound designer Brandi Rita. They put a final bit of beauty on a play that doesn’t deserve it.
The first event of an anniversary season should make a statement about how an arts organization sees itself. Artistic director Bari Newport easily could have moved one of the better-written and meatier plays scheduled for next year, “God of Carnage” or “Our Town,” to the fall.
A better choice might have been to kick off the 40th season with “One Blue Tarp,” an original play that came out of PTC’s playwriting series. There may be practical reasons for the scheduling, but “The Fox on the Fairway” shows how good PTC is at using fine local actors and talented designers to put lipstick on a pig, not that it can intellectually challenge and entertain an audience at the same time.
The play runs through Sept. 22. Tickets are available online at penobscottheatre.org, at the Bangor Opera House box office or by calling 942-3333. The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of Penobscot Theatre’s 2013-2014 season.