There are times and places when uncomplicated laughter provides reason enough for a night out. The heat of July, especially in a year of terrible violence and a bitter presidential race, is such a time. Duke Family Performance Hall, where Davidson Community Players does a light comedy every summer, is such a place.
And “The Fox on the Fairway,” the Players’ fourth production of a Ken Ludwig farce, yields the expected laughs. (It’s actually their fifth Ludwig show; he wrote the book for the musical “Crazy For You.”)
Only after I left the theater did I understand the title, as there’s no vulpine intruder among the six humans. That pun tells you something about the script: It’s a little corny for Ludwig, the best U.S. farce writer of his generation, and this play isn’t as tightly constructed as “Moon Over Buffalo” or “Lend Me a Tenor.”
Random (if often entertaining) events interrupt the plot; people have unclear motivations; the play sets up conditions characters have to meet, only to discard them; one of the funniest lines has been stolen from an episode of “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
On the other hand, Ludwig gets off zingers of his own, including this one from a woman of questionable virtue: “I call it my ‘Hail, Mary’ dress. You save it for your final pass, and if they pull it off, it’s a touchdown.”
The plot is even more improbable than usual for Ludwig. Bingham and Bell (Brian Rassler and Stuart Jonap), who run competing country clubs, stage a golf tournament each year. This time, Bell wagers $200,000 against $100,000 for Bingham, plus the deed to an antique shop run by the woman who’s Bingham’s discontented wife and Bell’s old flame (Lesi Jonap). Why? Don’t ask.
Bingham’s new employee, an easily flustered young chap named Justin (Tim Hager), plays terrific golf – but only when he’s calm. Bingham counts on him to win, but complications with dimwitted fiancée Louise (Rachel Bummel) send Justin into a tailspin. Pamela (Abigail Pagán), on whom Bingham has a none-too-secret crush, tries to keep Justin focused.
Director Paige Johnston Thomas knows how this machine should run and keeps it humming merrily. Everyone in the cast has good timing, and Hager brings something more than that: His deft sense of physical humor and vocal control allow him to roar and hurl himself around Clay James’ well-designed set without ever going over the top.