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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Review: Quiet moments prove strongest in Civic’s ‘Fox on the Fairway’

Civic’s “Fox on the Fairway” opened on Friday. (Chris Wooley)
Civic’s “Fox on the Fairway” opened on Friday. (Chris Wooley)

You’ve no doubt heard the term “slobs vs. snobs” applied to films like “Meatballs,” “Animal House,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Caddyshack,” in which a group of slovenly underdogs eventually trounce their rich, uptight adversaries. “The Fox on the Fairway,” which opened at Spokane Civic Theatre on Friday, is more of a snobs vs. snobs comedy, a bit of slapstick about two competing country clubs, one slightly stuffier than the other.

Written by Ken Ludwig and slickly directed for the Civic by Wes Deitrick, “The Fox on the Fairway” comfortably takes on the form of a classic farce: It combines the witty social satire of “The Importance of Being Earnest” with the in-one-door, out-the-other physical comedy of “Noises Off,” with a dash of “Fawlty Towers” thrown in. (There’s maybe a little “Caddyshack” in there, too). You’ll either think it’s hilarious or hoary; I’ll admit I found it to be a little bit of both.

Ludwig’s tangled web of misunderstandings and romantic rivalries centers on an annual golf competition between the Quail Valley and Crouching Squirrel country clubs. Henry Bingham (Bryan Durbin), director of Quail Valley, finds his job on the line if he doesn’t produce a winning golfer. He’s not concerned this year, however, because he’s recruited the town’s best golfer, and he bets Crouching Squirrel’s director, the cigar chomping real estate magnate Dickie Bell (Tom Sanderson), that Quail Valley will win the tournament.

Henry soon discovers that Dickie has filched Quail Valley’s superstar golfer, leaving Henry in a lurch. His new assistant, the charmingly oblivious Justin Hicks (Jaylan Renz), turns out to be an excellent golfer, and Henry recruits him to play for Quail Valley in the tournament. One of Dickie’s ex-wives, the flirty and frequently tipsy Pamela Peabody (Kris Crocker), is one of Henry’s board members, and she goes along hoping to get back at her former husband.

But Justin has one weakness: Whenever he’s distressed or angry, his golfing abilities go right out the window, and everyone’s walking on eggshells when Justin’s fiancée, country club waitress Louise (Alli Talmage), accidentally flushes her engagement ring down the toilet. Even more nerve-wracking is the sudden appearance of Henry’s militaristic wife Muriel (Aimee Paxton), who learns that her husband has put her beloved antique shop on the line in his bet with Dickie.

Naturally, Henry and Pamela’s plan goes even more horribly awry, and they soon go from devious masterminds to innocent bystanders. Anybody who has seen an old Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks comedy (or, for that matter, a re-run of “Three’s Company”) will likely see a lot of the plot beats coming from a mile away. Ludwig’s script ticks off all the items on the farce checklist: Characters often barge in on two other characters in a compromising position, there’s a faulty amplifier that accidentally transmits a private conversation and a last minute injury threatens to derail the entire operation.

For all the frantic running around onstage, the single best scene in “Fox” is one of the quietest: Henry and Pamela get drunk and reminisce, and after several bottles of Dom Pérignon (“I think I used to date him,” Pamela deadpans), Henry decides to try out a golf trick that elicits one of the biggest laughs of the production. Durbin and Crocker actually have the trickiest roles in the cast, because they’re often forced to remain composed in the face of certain catastrophe. Another small, funny moment (one that, coincidentally, also involves intoxication): Justin stumbles about the club in a medicated haze, mugging for an audience that isn’t really there.

The Civic’s opening night audience found “The Fox on the Fairway” a whole lot funnier than I did, which isn’t to say I didn’t find it funny. I certainly laughed, but this crowd was roaring, hooting and hollering and whooping at all the PG-13 innuendos (think of every golf term that could be tortured into a double entendre and you can bet Ludwig trots it out). It’ll be curious to see what the crowd response will be like throughout the show’s run (opening night crowds are often deliberately celebratory), but there is something therapeutic, almost cleansing, about a room full of raucous laughter.

The high spirits of the audience clearly rubbed off on the actors, because Deitrick’s cast is really superb, even if you can sometimes see the flop sweat. Everyone’s tireless energy really comes through in a breathlessly paced epilogue set to the “William Tell” Overture, which turns out to be one of the funniest and most surprising bits of extended physical comedy I’ve seen on a stage.

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