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Theatre Raleigh's first-rate cast doesn't keep The Fox on the Fairway afloat

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If you're heading to see The Fox on the Fairway, don't bother buckling up. No shoulder restraint or airbag could possibly avert the aesthetic whiplash awaiting patrons who savored Theatre Raleigh's five-star production of God of Carnage two short weeks before.

Playwright Ken Ludwig took up writing middlebrow comedies more or less where Moss Hart left off, enjoying well-earned successes in the '80s and '90s with fizzy showbiz farces like Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You and Moon Over Buffalo.

Unfortunately for all, in 2010 he phoned in this relentlessly predictable effort, a tale of low-down doings among the upper crust upon their chosen fields of play: the greens at a local country club. If this selection was indeed a calculated effort at courting Raleigh's merchant/society class, I should note that the last time I saw a venue pander this gracelessly to a chosen audience, clowns and sippy cups were involved.

All is not well in Quail Valley on the morning of their country club's yearly golf tournament with longtime rivals from Crouching Squirrel. No sooner does Henry, the club's irascible and over-excitable director, place a sizeable wager on the outcome with Dickie, his counterpart from Crouching Squirrel, than he learns that Quail Valley's star prospect has suspiciously switched sides. As all hope seems lost, he discovers that Justin, an eager-to-please new hire at the club, is actually an undiscovered golfing ace. In short course, Justin suits up and play begins—naturally, before all parties find out about his one Achilles heel.

A first-rate cast pours the kilocalories into keeping this leaky enterprise afloat. In his direction of John Allore's portrayal of Henry, director Michael Marotta unwisely attempts to marry bone-dry humor with the physical comedy of a Dick Van Dyke. It makes more sense when Robbie Gay's likable, insecure Justin makes with the hyperkinesis as his relationship with his fiancée hits the rocks. Meanwhile, it's clear that John Heinis has been directed to overinflate the bad guy role of Dickie.

The women in this work are uniformly poorly served. Kaila Merrill has the thankless role of Louise, Justin's bubble-headed ex-cheerleader fiancée. Veteran Pauline Cobrda nails battle-ax Muriel, and Lynda Clark can play characters like the slow-burning, grudge- (and torch-) bearing Pamela in her sleep. Still, given the differences in their ages, we don't believe that she and Henry ever could have been high-school sweethearts.

In short, we never really buy the flimsy premise, proceedings or outcome that the collection of straw men and women in Ludwig's script presents. We know by now that Theatre Raleigh is fully capable of selecting excellent scripts and producing them with enviable fidelity on its stages. When it simply chooses not to, we're left to wonder why.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Holy shtick."

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