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Fore! Play for the Funny Bone

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Bruce the BlogBY BRUCE APAR

Anyone who performs on stage will tell you there’s only so much an actor can do to “sell it.” Talent needs a buyer, and that’s where the audience gets into the act. Reaction from the seats – good, bad or indifferent — invariably affects every performance.

So it was a happy and telling moment for “The Fox on the Fairway” at White Plains Performing Arts Center when actor Jorge Acosta, saying aloud to himself “All in favor, say Aye!” tried to suppress a surprised grin after assorted audience members unexpectedly volunteered their votes of approval with a hearty “Aye!”

Evoking “The Honeymooners” and “Caddyshack,” among other comedy evergreens, Ken Ludwig tees up country club culture and flails away with glee. The result is highly derivative and highly entertaining.  The farcical plot, as the genre demands, moves more like a gyrating pinball than a graceful golf ball.

Nick Piacente and Jorge Acosta-off couch

Justin (Nick Piacente) is absolutely floored by what his boss Bingham (Jorge Acosta) is telling him. Photo by Kathleen Davisson

With farces, what is happening matters much less than how it’s happening, hopefully haplessly. There’s no shortage of that here.

Cordell Stahl and Marianne Matthews

Supercilious blowhard Dickie (Cordell Stahl) reminisces about romancing with Muriel (Marianne Matthews) in the Tap Room of Quail Valley Country Club. Photos by Kathleen Davisson

If Quail Valley Country Club loses its tournament against arch-rival Crouching Squirrel Country Club, Quail president Bingham (Acosta) stands also to lose his position, his wife’s antique store, and even his wife.

That’s because he bet the store against his Squirrel counterpart and nemesis Dickie (Cordell Stahl), who wants it so he doesn’t have to pay a couple of million to buy it when he turns the parcel into a shopping center.

Trouble is Dickie’s team is much better, but Bingham discovers ringers are right under his nose in the youthful persons of Justin and his girlfriend Louise (Susan Slotoroff).

Turns out Louise means a lot more than a tournament trophy to Bingham, and to his assistant Pamela (Amanda Renee Baker), than he realized. There are more irons in the fire than that, but it’s a fair way to describe the premise.

The author putters around with some golf puns, but doesn’t overdo it and keeps everything, even the sexual overtones, playful and tasteful. He doesn’t need to score a hole-in-pun to drive home the laughs.

There’s even a human pinball in the whirling dervish antics of Nick Piacente as loosey-goosey new hire Justin. If Mr. Piacente looks to be channeling Art Carney at times, namely his immortal bit of “addressing of the ball” as Ed Norton “The Honeymooners,” Mr. Acosta in his own way recalls Jackie Gleason as the gentle but flustered Ralph Kramden, whose schemes that backfire are par for the course, as is his redemption.

With six doors in the efficient, effectively designed set that depicts Quail’s dark-wood tap room, we are treated to requisite scenes of people entering and exiting whack-a-mole style. Mr. Piacente’s athleticism and Gumby limberness make him the pace-setter for the show, and Ms. Slotoroff is his equally able, pliable partner. They contort themselves as effortlessly as Tiger Woods shapes a shot around a dogleg.

Mr. Ludwig is an accomplished humorist, with “Lend Me a Tenor” his best-known work. In “Fox,” Dickie is the best-written character and Mr. Stahl makes the most of it, laying on the unctuous smarm that he mistakes for charm. He also reveals his bumbling density through malaprops, such as “a bird on the wing is worth two in the bush.”

Also excellent in their sharply-drawn characterizations are Amanda Renee Baker, who easily conveys a slinky, cool customer; and the larger-than-life Marianne Matthews as Bingham’s formidable, no-nonsense wife, affecting a priceless Noo Yawk accent, and at whose expense many jokes are stroked.

Amanda Renee Baker_Susan Slotoroff_Jorge Acosta

Quail Valley president Bingham (Jorge Acosta) schemes with country club staffer Louise (Susan Slotoroff, center) and his assistant Pamela (Amanda Renee Baker) to win the golf tournament. Photos by Kathleen Davisson

Apart from directing a thoroughly enjoyable, precise production, Jeremy Quinn appears on stage before the curtain to make the usual housekeeping announcements about cellphones and such, but also thankfully reminds us that “The arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.” He also asks that patrons stay long enough to acknowledge the cast at the curtain call. Hard to imagine a playgoer would be so crass as to leave 60 seconds sooner without doing what is common courtesy. Nevertheless, he is what you call an actor’s director.

The rest of the creative team includes scenic design by Dana Kenn, costume design by Antonio Consuegra, lighting design by Cecilia Durbin, sound design by William Neal, with production stage manager Karen Loftus.

The Fox on the Fairway will play the White Plains Performing Arts Center May 16-18 (Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm), May 22-25 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm) May 29-June 1 (Thursday at 2pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm) $35 adults; $25 for students high school and younger.

All performances are at the White Plains theatre, located on the third level of City Center off Mamaroneck Avenue in downtown White Plains.

To purchase tickets: visit the theatre box office, purchase the tickets online at www.wppac.com or call 914-328-1600. For Group Sales, please call 914-328-1600.

 

May 23, 2014 |

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